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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: distraint: general considerations: computers and accessories

Remember that as a consequence of the fall in cost of computer systems in recent years, the auction value of second hand computer equipment is often negligible.

When seizing computers you should always make sure that you list the make and serial number of each component part of a personal computer. For example, the monitor, keyboard, processor and peripherals may each be made by a different manufacturer and together comprise the whole computer. Always list printers separately and ensure that if you seize computers that are networked, you include the file server and ancillary equipment.

If you have to remove computers and their accessories, you must ensure that you do not remove anything that contains the debtor’s confidential information, particularly information necessary to the running of a business. You should ask the defaulter to

  • remove any data held on a computer (giving them the opportunity to copy and retain the data as necessary) otherwise you will have to arrange for its removal yourself which will add considerably to the costs
  • ensure that the equipment is safe to move. For example, the read/write head must be ‘parked’ before the processor is moved, otherwise the hard disk may be damaged.

If you levy on computer licences, as well as seizing and listing the original disks (where applicable) you should take possession of the original copy agreement and the passwords (in the form provided by the manufacturer).

If you levy distraint on computer software, you must seize the original and copy disks and manuals.

You should be cautious of any excessive valuation placed on software. Software is often bound by copyright and intellectual property laws. ‘Microsoft’, for example, has strict rules on the transfer of license agreements.