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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: summary proceedings: hearings and orders in the magistrates' court: conduct of the SP hearing

Conduct of the hearing

Although the precise procedures vary from court to court, you should always:

  • take the oath or affirmation
  • identify yourself as ‘name… officer of H M Revenue and Customs’
  • give brief details of:

    • the debtor’s name and address
    • the debt and
    • the amount unpaid and interest to date
  • confirm how the summons has been served (if you have one certificate covering several cases on a list, confirm whether any of them have been returned undelivered) and that you have no reason to believe that the summons has not been served;
  • produce the certificate(s) of debt if required
  • detail any adjournments or withdrawals not already notified to the court before the hearing.

If the number of cases listed for hearing is large consider discussing with the Clerk the possibility of obtaining orders in a block.

Asking for an order for payment

If the debtor does not attend the hearing and the summons has been served, you should ask the magistrate(s) for an order for payment forthwith of:

  • the unpaid debts on the summons, together with any interest under the appropriate legislation from the date of the summons to ‘today’ (tell the court how much this is, because it must be specified in the order)
  • the fees on issue of the summons and for the order and
  • HMRC costs (DMBM660830).

Remember that fees on the summons and costs are not claimable until the court has ordered the defendant to pay them to you.

The order for payment

England and Wales

If the court make an order for payment, they will sign the copy minute of order (form SP26B) in England and Wales. (Before you hand the SP26B to the court for signature you should delete the final entry ‘Distress…and it was…defendant’s goods’.)

Generally they will do so immediately, but the practice varies from court to court.

Northern Ireland

The court will grant you a decree when they make an order for payment.


The bench may order the hearing to be adjourned if it cannot resolve an unpaid case there and then. You may ask for an adjournment, in particular if you have received late notification of payment by cheque and you wish to ensure the cheque is given sufficient time to clear.

A hearing may be adjourned to a specified date, or generally. If it is adjourned generally, when you wish to resume the proceedings:

  • agree a new hearing date with the court
  • write to the debtor at least 14 days before the new date.