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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: distraint: general considerations: motor vehicles

Registered Vehicles

Where you distrain on a ‘road registered’ motor vehicle:

  • list on your inventory any accessories, for example a car radio or a tool kit, and remember to check in the car boot
  • inspect the registration document for an accurate description of the vehicle, but remember that the registered keeper is not necessarily the owner of the vehicle
  • note in your report whether the vehicle is taxed and has a current MOT certificate. This information may be useful should you have to remove and sell it
  • add that the keys and vehicle registration documents are included in the levy when listing the vehicle on your inventory (see note below where documentation missing)
  • take care when levying distraint on a vehicle carrying a cherished or personalised number plate (see below)
  • make sure that the vehicle is in running order or, if it is not, describe it as a non-runner
  • check independently that the vehicle is not on lease or subject to a hire purchase agreement (HPA) using the ‘Car Data Check’ provided by Experian, before asking the auctioneer to remove and sell the vehicle.

If the vehicle is on lease or subject to a hire purchase agreement, then release it from seizure by striking through the entry on the inventory before handing the distraint to the auctioneer; or if it is the only item on the inventory withdraw the distraint.

Absence of registration documents

There is nothing legally to prevent an auction house selling vehicles without registration documents although this must be made clear in the description. The DVLA states that if a vehicle is bought and sold without a registration document, the buyer will have to apply for a new document.

Car dealers and showrooms

Unregistered Vehicles

When levying distraint at business premises which sell new vehicles, you should make sure that the defaulter actually owns the vehicles. Normally the manufacturer retains ownership of the vehicle until it is registered.

Cherished number plates

Take care when levying distraint on a vehicle carrying a cherished or personalised number plate The plate cannot be removed from the vehicle by the auctioneer and sold separately.

If you suspect that the debtor may ask to transfer cherished number plates from the vehicle, make sure you list the chassis and engine numbers on the inventory (DMBM656040).

After you have levied distraint, the defaulter may ask for your agreement to transfer the plate to another vehicle. You may agree to this but the vehicle’s owner must de-register it and contact DVLA immediately to obtain an alternative registration number for the vehicle. The owner must fit the new plates at their own expense before the sale.