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Being indebted to HMRC can pose a serious problem for your business, so it is best to be aware of your rights and options before you are visited by a HMRC bailiff, Field Officer or High Court Enforcement Officer.

Here we discuss what HMRC bailiffs are and what powers they hold when visiting your business. Understanding what will happen during their visit is crucial to you preserving your business’s assets and goods.

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By quickly taking back control, we can help you solve the problems that your business has.

What are HMRC bailiffs?

Technically, there is no such thing as a specific HMRC bailiff – a bailiff is authorised by HMRC to collect debts on their behalf. HMRC field officers and bailiffs acting on instruction from HMRC are two different entities, and bailiff rights are limited. 

If a representative from HMRC arrives at your place of business, this will be a field officer. This differs from the situation where a bailiff shows up with a distraint order notice – this is an individual who works for a bailiff company which has been hired by HMRC to represent them. 

What is the difference between a HMRC bailiff and a HMRC Enforcement Officer?

HMRC employs third-party bailiffs to collect debts that they are owed from limited companies. They possess the same rights as standard bailiffs do, but can only deal with matters relating to the business in debt and business goods. This does however, differ if you are a sole trader dealing with bailiffs.

High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) differ from HMRC bailiffs and have the power to enter into a business premise. A HCEO sent by HMRC works in accordance with a Writ of Control which allows them to identify potential assets for seizure and collect debts of over £5,000. This course of action is only available if they have previously entered and noted down a list of goods, or they are there to evict you from the property. 


What powers do HMRC bailiffs have?

Whilst HMRC field officers can and will seize property to sell at a public auction to be compensated for tax and PAYE arrears, bailiffs’ rights, on the other hand, are rather limited.

Contrary to popular belief, they cannot force their way into your place of business and they most certainly cannot adopt threatening behaviour. They can never represent themselves as being an official representative of HMRC unless they are an actual field officer.

There are a few instances whereby HMRC bailiffs have the right to enter your business premises on the first visit. These include:

  • When HMRC have hired bailiffs to enter a business premises due to a court order;
  • Where High Court Enforcement Officers are involved.
  • When collecting unpaid criminal fines, income tax and stamp duty.

The use of force however, is often only employed as a last resort.


What is a Controlled Goods Agreement?

If a HMRC Officer has sent a business a Notice of Enforcement and provided 7 days notice, they can legally take control of goods if a debt isn’t settled due to the Controlled Goods Agreement. 

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What can HMRC bailiffs take from my business premise?

When dealing with company debt, a HMRC bailiff will only take items that belong to the business and are classed as a business asset. They cannot take personal items nor can they take anything that has been rented or hired.

A bailiff will typically take:

  • Money
  • Valuable stock
  • Equipment and machinery owned by the business
  • Company vehicles

If you can afford to pay the debt owed, it is advisable that you do so rather than allowing the bailiffs to seize assets. A bailiff should always be willing to help settle the debt with you first.


What can I do if my business is visited by a HMRC officer?

Firstly, you need to be sure that the bailiff is certified and chasing a debt that you actually owe. You should:

  • Ask for details of the debt and proof that the claimant is actually HMRC;
  • Ask to see identity proof such as an enforcement agent certificate, ID card or a badge;
  • Ascertain whether they are certified by checking the Ministry of Justice Bailiff Register.

Once you are confident that the bailiff has been sent by HMRC and that you do owe the debt, you should attempt to settle it if you have the funds available to do so. If you are not currently in a position whereby you can afford to pay your debts, you should contact us at The Insolvency Experts immediately.

Our team can help you to negotiate with HMRC bailiffs and create a payment plan that you can afford and that satisfies your debtors.


What are my rights against HMRC bailiffs?


As with any type of bailiff, you hold a certain amount of rights against them. The main ones you need to be aware of should you be visited by HMRC bailiffs are:

  • If you ask the bailiff to leave, they must.
  • Unless they have a Court Order, you can deny them entry to your premises.
  • You can lock your vehicle in a garage or far away from your premises to protect it.
  • You can close and lock all of the doors that allow access to your business premise.

If a bailiff attempts to take anything from your premises without proper authorisation, they can be found guilty of harassment. According to The Administration of Justice Act, even HMRC bailiffs are governed by standards of behaviour pursuant to an implied contract between the state and citizens, inclusive of business owners and directors.

Whilst it has long been recognised that HMRC will issue a distraint notice and attempt to recover unpaid taxes by any means within their power, the rights of bailiffs’ employed by HMRC rather than field officers, only extend so far.

How can The Insolvency Experts help with dealing with HMRC bailiffs?

If you are behind with your payments to HMRC and concerned that you might encounter problems with a bailiff or field officer, contact our team at The Insolvency Experts immediately. Our insolvency specialists can help mediate an otherwise potentially difficult situation, so call our team now for confidential, honest advice or via our enquiries page.

Call our friendly experts on 03003 038284

By quickly taking back control, we can help you solve the problems that your business has.