beta This part of GOV.UK is being rebuilt – find out what beta means

HMRC internal manual

Information Disclosure Guide

Sharing information outside of HMRC: sharing information with courts, tribunals and HMRC appeals: court orders

What is a ‘court order’?

A court order is issued by a Judge or Magistrate (or Sheriff in Scotland) and instructs a person to do, or refrain from doing, something. A ‘person’ may relate to an individual, company or another organisation.

A court order can be issued against persons not directly involved in a particular case and can be issued against government departments. However, not all court orders compel HMRC to release information. Guidance on which orders can be complied with, and which orders cannot, is provided within this guidance.

On rare occasions HMRC may wish to challenge the scope of a particular order or seek to overturn the order in whole or in part. If you think it may be necessary to take such action, you should contact your Data Guardian who will seek advice from the Information Policy and Disclosure Team.

Court orders addressed to HMRC will generally request specific information. The order will usually ask either for the information or our documents or other specific records that contain the information.

How do you identify an order from court that will enable you to lawfully disclose?

  • Any order issued by a court should be clearly marked as such. Orders should be stamped with the court’s official seal and signed by the presiding judge.
  • If you are uncertain about whether a particular document constitutes a signed and sealed order, you should clarify the matter by telephoning the court. Contact details for the court will normally be given on the order.
  • An order may be made against the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, Child Benefit Office or other part of HMRC. HMRC will accept these orders, but may limit Disclosures to the part of the organisation referred to in the text of the order.
  • You must see the actual order. A draft order will not have been signed or stamped and will not provide you with lawful authority to disclose information. If you are provided with a copy of an order you must ask that the original is posted without delay.
  • An order issued by a superior court (High Court) or Upper Tier Tribunal is sufficient to enable HMRC to disclose lawfully the requested information.
  • If you receive a ‘Coroner’s Notice’ see IDG40561 
  • If you receive an order from a Crown Court, County Court, Magistrate’s Court or an Employment Tribunal, and there is no other lawful means for disclosure, you should seek further guidance from Information Policy and Disclosure (IDG80100).

If the order requires you or anyone else to actually attend court, this is known as a witness summons (or citation in Scotland) (see IDG40540).

Procedure you must take

Court orders must always be treated with the highest priority. It is a criminal offence to disobey a court order without good reason (‘contempt of court’) so you must treat any court order as ‘urgent’.

  • Take responsibility at the earliest stage to ensure that the court order is dealt with even if you are not the ‘specialist’ in the area, or your office is not responsible for the customer’s records.
  • Familiarise yourself with the nature of the order or request you have received and inform your manager that an order from court has been received.
  • Use the guidance in this section to decide whether the order enables you to disclose lawfully.

If you are content that you have lawful authority to disclose, you should provide the requested information. You must ensure that any instructions on the court order regarding who the information should be provided to are followed.

Child Benefit Office

Within Child Benefit Office (CBO) court orders are to be sent immediately by internal post to the CBO Customer Relations Unit (see IDG80100 for contact details).

Family Law

Many court orders are brought under family law and require HMRC to disclose information in respect of either a child or adult.

If the order requests information in respect of a child, it should be sent immediately to the Child Benefit Office (CBO) Customer Relations Unit (see IDG80100 for contact details).

If the order requests information in respect of an adult, it will only provide you with lawful authority to disclose if the order is:

  • Made “In the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court” and no specific Act is quoted on the face of the order;
  • Signed by a High Court judge; a deputy High Court judge; a section 9 judge; a district judge of the Principle Registry of the Family Division of the High Court or a district judge of any District Registry of the Family Division of the High Court.

Guidance for the courts on preparing such orders and a draft form of order has been sent to HM Courts Service. Click on the following link for a copy of the draft order (web) 

Enforcement of Judgements Office

If you receive a demand from the Enforcement of Judgements Office it will be requesting the disclosure of HMRC information under the Judgements Enforcement (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. Although the disclosure request will be called a ‘demand’, the power being exercised is classed as a ‘summons’ and at Paragraph 15 it states that an order of the office has the same effect as a High Court Order. This means that HMRC is permitted to disclose information under S18(2)(e) of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005.

Further guidance

If after reading this guidance you are still unsure whether you need to comply with an order, you should contact your Data Guardian.

Devolved administrations

This guidance applies throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland.