A recent case illustrates the extent of the investigative powers available to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). It involved a company that HMRC suspected of evading Excise Duty. A raid on its premises was undertaken and HMRC officers found quantities of alcohol for which there appeared to be no records of purchase. The officers seized the goods as well as computers and papers belonging to the company and also private papers.
HMRC held the computers and the papers for a week.
The company went to court, alleging that the seizure was unreasonable and that the length of time HMRC retained the computers and other material was excessive. The court gave the claim short shrift, agreeing with HMRC’s contentions that:
- it was reasonable to assume that the private papers may contain relevant information about the business;
- the return of the private papers had been prioritised;
- the claim that the computers should not have been seized was unreasonable; and
- given the volume of papers etc. seized, retention for a week was not unreasonable.