On occasion, packages are seized by either HMRC or Border Force when being imported or exported across the UK border. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- The wrong tax or duties being paid
- Incorrect or missing paperwork such as licences
- Prohibited items being included in the shipment
- Suspicion that the items in question may be the proceeds of crime.
Here, we’ll answer a few questions regarding Border Force or HMRC seized goods, including “what does customs do with seized goods?” and “what happens when a package is seized by customs?”. We’ll also advise you on what to do in order to request the return of your goods.
What Does ‘Notice of Seizure of Goods’ Mean?
If you receive a Notice of Seizure of Goods, either from HMRC or Border Force, this means that items that you have tried to import or export have been confiscated by the body in question. The communication will include the contact details of whichever organisation currently has your belongings in their possession, and will inform you of what to do next if your package has been seized by customs.
You should ensure that you direct all correspondence to the correct authority, as failing to do so may mean that any restoration procedures may be delayed, and your items will be less likely to be restored to you as a result.
What is the Border Force Restoration Policy?
The Border Force restoration policy is a set of rules, stating that if Border Force has seized goods that belong to you, you can apply to have those items restored. You can do this via a Restoration Request or Notice of Claim. It’s important to do this quickly; after one month, legal ownership of the articles in question will automatically transfer to Border Force, and they may be disposed of or destroyed.
Border Force will consider all requests for the return of seized items, and will take into account all information that you provide to support your claim. However, if the items they have confiscated are prohibited or related to any crime – including tax evasion or smuggling – it is highly unlikely that they will be returned.
What are the Customs Penalties in the UK?
The custom penalties in the UK may include a Civil Customs Penalty (CCP) of between £250 and £2,500. The higher amount is usually charged if your package has been seized by customs after repeated or significant breaches of customs law. You may be able to avoid these charges if you voluntarily admit any contravention in good time.
However, if it is decided that yours is a criminal rather than a civil case, the penalties may be more severe. Those accused of importing drugs may face 14 years in prison, and, for illegal firearms the maximum custodial sentence is 10 years. If your alleged offence is tax evasion, you may face life in prison if you are considered to have cheated the public revenue, but this is only in rare cases.
What to Do if You Receive a Seized Goods Warning Letter
If you’re not sure what to do if you receive a Notice 12a, the best first step is to seek legal advice. You should then contact the authority that currently holds your items as soon as possible, as HMRC or Border Force expect to receive a Restoration Request or a Notice of Claim within a month.
Both authorities usually start destroying perishable items such as alcohol and tobacco products after 45 days, so it’s important to ensure that you claim is sent well before this time.
How Long Do I Have to Reply to a Seized Goods Letter?
You have one month to respond to a seized goods letter, as after that time, the items in question will become the property of the organisation that has seized them. If you intend to send a Restoration Request or a Notice of Claim, Border Force’s policy states that they must receive these within one month of the items being seized.
How Do You Know if Customs Seize Your Package?
If customs seizes your package, you will be informed of this by way of a communication called a Notice 12A. This will either have been handed to you in person if you were travelling with the items at the time that Border Force or HMRC seized your goods, or it will be sent to your address.
It will contain details of the authority who carried out the confiscation and the reason for the seizure.
What Happens to Goods Seized by Customs?
Perishable items are usually destroyed within 45 days, while vehicles and other items may be auctioned if the authority has not received timely communication from their owners.
However, if the cost of storing any item is likely to exceed its value, that item is likely to be destroyed too.
Do HMRC Auction Seized Goods?
Yes – government auctions are regularly held to enable customs authorities and other official bodies to dispose of articles they have seized as the proceeds of crime, or goods that have been imported illegally.
Of course, items can only be sold if they are legal to own in the UK, and if they cost more to store them until the auction than is likely to be recouped at the time they are sold, they are more likely to be destroyed.
Can You Get HMRC Seized Goods Back?
It is possible to appeal a confiscation and request the return of seized items. HMRC and Border Force will consider all requests of this kind. However, if the items are found to be the proceeds of crime, or are illegal to own in the UK, it is highly unlikely that they will be returned to you.
You can either send a Restoration Request or a Notice of Claim to the relevant authority, or both. Gov.uk provides example letters of both kinds.
A Restoration Request should show your name, address, the reference number from the relevant Notice 12A, a description of the items that were seized (including information such as colour, brand and quantity), proof of ownership and the reasons why the items should be returned to you – including any evidence you have to support them.
A Notice of Claim should only be sent if you believe that it was illegal for HMRC or Border Force to have seized your items. This communication is effectively a request for a court hearing. It should contain the same information as is detailed above as well as the reasons you believe the seizure was illegal.
Can You Get Border Force Seized Goods Back?
Yes, as long as they do not include the proceeds of crime or articles that are illegal in the UK.
To claim your seized goods back, simply follow the steps detailed above. The restoration claim process for Border Force is the same as HMRC’s.
How Long Can HMRC Hold Seized Goods For?
HMRC will hold seized goods for up to a month before legal possession of those items then transfers to their authorities. Usually, they will wait around 45 days before destroying or disposing of the items they have confiscated, and if you request restoration within one month, you may still be able claim your items back.
How Long Can Border Force Hold Seized Goods For?
Border Force behaves in much the same way as HMRC in these cases. They will hold items for up to a month. Following this time, legal possession will then transfer to them. Again, items will usually be held for around 45 days before Border Force begins to dispose of them.
What is the National Post-Seizure Unit Border Force Contact Number?
You can call HMRC regarding the seizure of items at customs by calling 03000 588 703. You can also fax documents to them via 03000 588 968. While their phone line is unmanned, callers can leave voicemail messages to which the authority will respond as soon as they can.
You will be able to make general enquiries regarding both HMRC and Border Force seized items on this number, but any claims must be sent to the relevant authority in writing.
You can also fax documents to Border Force via 01752 765 816, or write to them at:
National post seizure unit
UK Border Force
For further information regarding what happens when a package is seized by customs and what to do on these occasions, you can find further guidance and assistance through the link above.
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