Seizures by Border Force & HMRC
If you have had cash or assets seized or frozen by HMRC, UK Border Agency, local authority or other government authority, it may be possible to secure the return of those assets with the right legal advice and representation.
Our Business Crime, Regulatory and Proceeds of Crime Solicitors have specific experience with some of the most complex and serious proceedings, including the following:
- Cash seizure
- Cash forfeiture
- Money laundering
- Third party confiscation
- Restraint orders
- Freezing orders
- Account freezing orders
- Account forfeiture orders
- Unexplained wealth orders
Our specialist lawyers are committed to helping clients regain access to their seized assets. We offer extensive expertise in all matters related to seizures by HMRC and the UK Border Force and we are skilled in advocacy in respect of these matters.
Dealing with HMRC Border Force can be daunting and complicated. If the processes and protocols aren’t followed correctly there could be unnecessary delays, additional costs and the potential loss of valuable goods. By seeking legal advice immediately after the seizure has taken place you will improve your chances of an optimal outcome.
Our expert litigation team deals with the worldwide importation of goods to the UK, regularly working with clients who want goods restored at all major ports of entry, including Dover, Felixstowe, Hull, Liverpool and Southampton as well as Manchester Airport Stansted, Gatwick & Heathrow.
We have a strong understanding of the relevant systems and can act quickly and decisively to support clients who have had good seized.
Why are items seized?
Goods and cash can be seized by the UK Border Force, HMRC and other government enforcement agencies under several different pieces of legislation.
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA)
If you are stopped at the border and a Border Force official finds that you are carrying cash, postal orders, cheques, bankers drafts or bearer bonds, they may decide to seize it under section 294(1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (“POCA”).
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) gives powers to enforcement authorities to seize cash (that it is not less than the £1,000 minimum amount) if the officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting the money was gained from or intended for use in crime, and to secure its forfeiture in magistrates’ court proceedings.
What happens after a seizure under POCA?
The seized cash can be detained for an initial period of 48 hours, with an application for an extension to be made to the Magistrates Court within the 48 hours.
There will be a hearing in the local Magistrates Court within 48 hours of the initial seizure, which you may choose to attend or instruct someone to represent you to contest the detention of the cash on your behalf. The usual outcome is that the Magistrate finds the “continued detention [of the cash] is justified while its intended use is further investigated or consideration is given to bringing proceedings against any person” (section 295(6)).
If consideration is being given to criminal proceedings (i.e. for money laundering offences) any cash forfeiture will usually be postponed until the criminal case has been concluded.
The cash can be withheld for several months or years while the authorities conduct their investigations, until either they return all or part of the money or they make an application for the forfeiture of the cash under section 298 POCA.
Even if the authorities decide not to prosecute (usually because there is insufficient evidence to give a reasonable prospect of a conviction), the civil forfeiture can still go ahead, based on the lower “standard of proof”, i.e. the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.
Cash forfeiture proceedings are civil proceedings which means that a criminal conviction is not required for the forfeiture of the cash to be ordered. Cash forfeiture proceedings are civil proceedings, so the burden of proof is on the claimant. The onus is on you to prove that your case is true on the balance of probabilities.
The POCA process for the seizure and forfeiture of cash can take considerable time to reach a conclusion, but if a legitimate, consistent and clear explanation is given and backed up with evidence, the money will often be returned quite quickly.
Although cash seizures are undoubtedly a good mechanism in the prevention of crime and the fight against money laundering, it can be an extremely stressful, distressing and intrusive process for the owner of the cash if it had been obtained legitimately.
The Customs and Excise Management Act 1979
It is also possible for items to be seized under the customs and excise Acts if the enforcement officers consider the items to be “liable to forfeiture”. Goods may be considered liable to forfeiture if:
- The correct import duty has not been paid.
- The goods are considered indecent or obscene.
- Import paperwork has not been completed properly.
- There is a dispute over the valuation of the goods.
- The necessary licences or certificates are missing.
Items commonly seized by Border Force or HMRC under the customs and excise Acts include:
When and how are goods seized?
- Cigarettes, alcohol and other tobacco products
- Offensive weapons
- Endangered animal or plant species
- Meat or dairy products from outside the EU
- Items that are considered indecent or obscene
- Items for which the correct VAT or duty has not been paid
- Items for which any paperwork is missing or incomplete
If you were stopped while entering or leaving the UK with the items in question, the items will be seized in your presence and the reason for the seizure will be explained to you. You will be handed a Notice 12A, also known as a Border Force Seizure Notice, which contains all of the necessary details of the confiscation. If you were importing or exporting the items through a courier or other agent, and the goods were seized from them, a notice of seizure will then be sent to you by post.
What happens to items seized by the Border Force or HMRC?
Depending on the nature of the seized items and the reason for the seizure, they could be handled in different ways.
When items are seized they will be kept in a secure storage facility until legal proceedings have concluded. You may be charged a storage fee until the issue has been resolved. You are entitled to challenge the seizure, and you may need to go to court to prove the HMRC or Border Force were wrong in seizing your items. Your Notice 12A will provide guidance about sending a Notice of Claim.
If the seizure is deemed legitimate, or you do not challenge the seizure, your items will either be sold at an auction or destroyed. If your items have already been disposed of, but you are successful in proving the seizure was illegitimate, you could be entitled to be compensated for the loss. It is crucial to instruct a specialist solicitor to ensure your items are returned to the rightful owner, or that your are compensated if your items are sold or destroyed.
Can I challenge a Border Force or HMRC seizure?
If you believe that there was no legal right to seize your goods and you want the Border Force or HMRC to consider returning them, you have 3 options:
- Lodge a Notice of Claim within one calendar month of the seizure and start condemnation proceedings.
- Write to HMRC or Border Force asking for the items to be returned to the rightful owner. This is called ‘restoration’ and can be done even if you accept it was seized legally.
- Do both. You can challenge the legality of the seizure and ask for the goods to be returned as well. Starting condemnation proceedings and applying for restoration are two separate processes.
The process is the same whether it is Border Force or HMRC who have seized the items, but you should be clear about which authority has seized the goods so you know who to follow up with.
If you do not challenge the legality of the seizure by submitting a notice of claim, you will not be able to challenge it later at the tribunal.
At Draycott Browne, our criminal defence solicitors have extensive experience in dealing with seizures by the UK Border Force and HMRC. We are widely recognised as one of the North of England's leading teams of Criminal Defence Solicitors with specialist fraud, money laundering and business crime expertise.
Contact us today by calling the number at the top of this page. If you would like us to contact you, simply fill in our online enquiry form and a member of the team will be in touch as soon as possible.
We are highly regarded nationally across the legal profession and noted for consistently delivering positive results. Our team possesses a breadth of technical knowledge and experience of POCA Investigations and will provide you with the expertise needed throughout the process.
Our team of Criminal Defence Lawyers regularly act for clients in London and throughout the Midlands and of course the North West including clients from Birmingham and Liverpool. By entrusting Draycott Browne, you can be assured that you will be working with a team of highly skilled and experienced lawyers who have a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the law.
Our legal team is available 7 days a week. For expert legal advice or representation, call Draycott Browne today on (0)161 228 2244.