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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: country court proceedings: the defendant’s response to the claim: adjourning hearings

Applications from the defendant

Sometimes you will be asked by a defendant to agree to an adjournment. You should consider the reason for the request very carefully. Experience shows that most requests are merely attempts to stall the court process and therefore delay judgment being entered. This is comparable with requests to enter into a consent order and similarly you should resist such applications (DMBM666010).

Typically a defendant will ask for an adjournment so that they can file returns. Your response should make it clear that:

  • you cannot agree to an adjournment
  • the returns are (considerably) overdue
  • the liability is legally due
  • you will advise the court, if and when the returns are made, of any reduction to your claim.

There will, however, be rare occasions when it may be appropriate to agree to a short adjournment, for example where a defendant is genuinely unable to attend the hearing due to serious illness.

You should treat each case on its merits but remember that the onus is on the defendant to make the application to the court and to pay the appropriate fee. You should never apply for an adjournment on behalf of a defendant.

Applications from HMRC

You must organise your work so that it should be very rare to have to apply to the court to adjourn a hearing. Adjourning hearings does not convey the desired image and seriousness of the matter to the defendant. It also involves paying a fee which you cannot recover from the defendant.

Applications in advance of the hearing

If, exceptionally, the hearing date does not allow you enough time to prepare your case, you should:

  • try to obtain the defendant’s written consent to an adjournment if there is time to do so
  • apply to the court on form N244, asking for the date of the hearing to be deferred to a date by which you can prepare your case. The correct way to express this to the court is “the first open date after [date]”. You should attach a copy of any written consent given by the defendant
  • explain in broad terms why you need more time to prepare your case
  • make the defendant aware of your application for an adjournment even if there is insufficient time to seek their consent.

You should note that fee number 2.6 (on notice) or 2.7 (by consent) is payable and that you cannot recover either fee from the defendant (see DMBM668770).

You should not therefore seek an adjournment unless absolutely necessary.

Applications at the hearing

You should never attend a hearing with the specific intention of applying for an adjournment. Any request for an adjournment should have been made in advance of the hearing.

If you have prepared for the hearing thoroughly, you should be able to answer any points raised during the hearing confidently even if they were not mentioned in the written defence. However there may be rare occasions where a defendant raises a matter that you cannot answer, despite your preparation.

If the district judge will not enter judgment in HMRC’s favour on the basis of the case you have presented supported by the certificates of debt without you answering the defendant’s points, you should ask for the hearing to be adjourned to enable you to obtain the necessary information. Where the defendant admitted part of the claim in their defence, or does so at the hearing, you should ask for an order for interim payment of the amount not in dispute.

You should ask for the adjournment period to be sufficient to ensure that the information will be available for the next hearing date, but do not ask for an excessive period as this will delay judgment being entered.

No fee is payable when the request for an adjournment is made at a hearing.

Hearing adjourned

When a hearing is adjourned, the court will give written notice to any party not attending when the order was made.