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HMRC internal manual

Excise Assessments Interim Guidance

HM Revenue & Customs
, see all updates

Prime assessments: assessments for failure to make a return

Where a trader fails to submit a duty return HMRC have the power to make an assessment to the best of their judgement in order to establish a liability and create an enforceable debt for that period.

Such assessments, issued in the absence of a return are known as prime assessments

A prime assessment is an assessment to duty made and notified, under Finance Act 1994 section 12(1), to an authorised trader who has failed to submit a return. (In this context, the term return refers to the periodic declaration of liability to duty which an authorised trader is required or directed to submit.)

In certain excise regimes, prime assessments are issued centrally by the relevant National Accounting Centres. Officers should be aware however, that there may be isolated instances where the Centre may consider it more appropriate to refer the matter to a nominated regional contact. Officers are therefore advised to consult the relevant regime guidance and to be aware that there may be guidelines issued by the relevant Unit of Expertise.

Prime assessments are presently issued centrally in the following regimes

  • Air Passenger Duty (APD)
  • General betting duty
  • Bingo
  • Breweries
  • Cider and wine producers, and
  • Machine gaming Duty.

If you are aware that the amount of an assessment due to be calculated by the central computer is likely to be too high or low, you must take action to stop the assessment being made and notified. If you do not, the prime assessment will not be to best judgement.

For example; In the case of a compulsory registration you may be aware from a recent visit of the actual duty liability, at least for part of the first period.

If the first period return is not submitted the centrally calculated assessment will not take account of that information and therefore cannot be said to have been made to best judgement.

Issuing an additional assessment to top up the prime assessment is not acceptable if you already held the information at the time the prime assessment was made.

In the absence of a centrally issued assessment, an officer should raise a prime assessment when a trader fails to submit a return.

Where circumstances permit, it is always preferable to obtain the outstanding return rather than issue a prime assessment.

Prime assessments must be made to best judgement, see EAIG13000.