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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: distraint: carrying out a distraint: seizing goods

Seeing the goods

It is vital that, at the time of the distraint, you see all the goods that you are levying on otherwise you have not seized them and distraint has not taken place.


You must also obtain specific verbal confirmation from the defaulter, or a responsible person, that goods are owned by the debtor solely and that no-one else has a financial interest in them.

To do this, it is often useful to ask the debtor directly

  • is this yours?
  • is it paid for?

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’ then you may seize the goods.

The debtor may try to deflect your distraint by claiming during the levy that the goods belong to someone else. It is for the debtor, not for you, to prove ownership. You are entitled to seize goods you honestly believe to belong to the debtor.

Third party claim

After the levy sometimes a third party will claim ownership of goods you have seized (DMBM656050).

If you are satisfied about their claim, you must release those goods from the distraint.

A third party has five days in which to make representations before the goods can be sold. If you are in doubt about claims to ownership consult your manager.

Commencement of levy

A levy starts at the moment when the officer of HMRC indicates (by pointing to or touching) that a specific item, representing all distrainable goods, has been seized. From that point on the defaulter is liable for costs even if payment is offered before the levy is completed (DMBM655860).

Completion of the inventory identifies the specific goods that are being impounded.

Use of cameras

You are recommended to take still photographs of goods distrained primarily to assist in identifying their location and any access requirements in case they have to be removed, but also to help in distinguishing items of a broadly similar nature (such as jewellery). However, photographs are in addition to a full and properly completed inventory, not instead of one. If the defaulter asks, you should provide them with copies.

If you wish to buy photographic equipment, you should do so through local office funding arrangements.

Video cameras or sound recording equipment must not be used in any circumstances.