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HMRC internal manual

Enquiry Manual

HM Revenue & Customs
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Information Powers: TMA70/S20: Definitions: Documents



‘Documents’ means anything in which information of any description is recorded subject to specific exclusions EM10205.

FA88/S127 brings computer data within the definition of a document EM10050.

It is in the fields of accounts and returns investigation and avoidance work that the powers under TMA70/S20 are likely to be most used. The powers are widely drawn and may be used to require the production not only of business records but also of private bank accounts and other private records where you can satisfy a Commissioner that those records contain or may contain information relevant to any Income Tax, NIC, Corporation Tax or Capital Gains Tax liability to which the person is or may be subject, or to the amount of any such liability. A notice under Section 20(1) could include a general requirement for statements of all the bank accounts in which the taxpayer has an interest.

Similarly, you could require delivery of all records relating to a named business without specifying them. This follows from the wording of Section 20(8D) which refers to documents `specified or described in the notice in question’. `Described’ clearly extends your scope beyond documents which you are able to specify. It is normally better to use the word `records’ rather than a wider one such as `documents’ which can lead to unnecessary arguments about the excessive scope of the notice and even create the possibility of raising the question of legal privilege EM10165.

It is often useful to indicate what is wanted by starting with a list of the records normally found and ending with general words, for example, `….all books of account and accounting records including cash books, ledgers, journals, invoices and all other records relating to ….’. The term `record’ does not clearly include business correspondence and if you wish this to be included you should refer to it in the list of particular documents. It will also be necessary to state specifically the period to be covered by the documents.

You must, however, be able to show that the documents required are relevant to the taxpayer’s own liability and care and discretion must be exercised in using the powers to obtain records. An assurance has been given in Parliament that the powers will not be used for `fishing expeditions’. Moreover, quite apart from the express statutory restrictions, a notice may be held invalid if its requirements are unreasonably burdensome. For this reason, careful thought must be given to the scope of any descriptions used in the notice.

If you have difficulty in formulating a suitable description of the documents to be required, seek advice from contact link.