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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: distraint: preparing for distraint calls: unaccompanied distraint visits - selection of officers and cases

Statute enables an officer of HMRC to levy distraint for unpaid duties.

It is Departmental policy for officers to carry out distraint visits unaccompanied. There is no legal requirement for the additional presence of a bailiff, who plays no active part in the process. Experience has shown that distraints levied without a bailiff present are just as effective as those where a bailiff accompanies the officer.

Acting alone allows distraint officers more flexibility in the way they organise their work, for example

  • combining distraint work with other Field Force activities, for instance PAYE quantifications, or attendance at court
  • not having to rely on the availability of bailiffs
  • making distraint calls as the opportunity arises.

However, where ‘risk assessment’ and the particular circumstances of the case indicate that the officer should be accompanied, the decision on whether or not to use a bailiff (or a colleague) is the responsibility of the office manager (DMBM655050).

Selection of officers

Officers should be willing to make unaccompanied calls and must not be pressured to do so. The higher debt manager should consider the following points when selecting officers to carry out distraints without a bailiff.

The officers selected should be dependable and have the necessary experience, which at the minimum should include attendance at a distraint training course for both direct and indirect taxes and a period of familiarisation with distraint work, for example accompanying an experienced colleague (mentoring).

The higher debt manager is responsible for

  • the personal safety of staff on outdoor work (DMBM510330) and
  • examining each case before a distraint call (DMBM655040).

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Suitable cases

Cases for unaccompanied distraint calls should be selected carefully to make sure that there is no information on the computer records to suggest that a single officer distraint call may be undesirable.

If the suitability of a case for an officer only distraint call is in doubt consider a distraint call by two officers or by an officer and a bailiff.