What to do if you have something seized by Customs

If you have had something seized by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), you can challenge the seizure and apply to have it returned. This applies to any type of goods, including vehicles.

On this page:

Why have your things been seized?

Customs officers have the right to seize things within in the UK if any of the following apply:

  • excise goods such as alcohol or tobacco if duty has not been properly paid on them
  • items that are banned from the UK or restricted
  • Customs laws or regulations have been broken

HMRC is no longer responsible for seizure at the UK border of things brought into the UK from the European Union or outside the EU. This is dealt with by Border Force.

Find out more about the work of Border Force on the Home Office website (Opens new window)

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What happens when things are seized?

If you are present

If you are present at the time your things are seized, the reason for the seizure will be explained to you and you will be handed a 'Seizure Information Notice' (ENF156) which lists the seized items.

If you are not present

If you are not present when your things are seized, you will receive a 'Notice of Seizure' through the post that tells you who carried out the seizure, the legal grounds on which this has been done and lists the items that have been seized.

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What to do next

Once your things are seized, you have the following options:

  • If you accept the seizure was right and do not want the things returned to you, you do not have to do anything further, and the items will be disposed of.
  • If you believe that the seizure was not legal you can challenge it - see guidance 'Challenging the seizure' below.
  • You can also write to HMRC asking for your things to be returned to you - whether you agree with the seizure or not. If HMRC decides not to return them, then you can ask for the decision to be reviewed - see guidance 'What to do if you disagree with the decision' below.

If you are unhappy about how you were personally dealt with by HMRC, you can make a complaint. See section below 'Making a complaint'.

You may want to consult a solicitor before deciding what course of action to take.

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Challenging the seizure

As the owner of the things you can challenge the legality of their seizure by sending a 'Notice of Claim' in writing to HMRC. If you are writing you should include:

  • your full name and address
  • any customs reference you have been given
  • why you believe HMRC were wrong to seize the items

The notice must be received within one month of the seizure and there can be no extension to this time limit because it is set by the law.

To find out more about challenging a seizure and to find an example 'Notice of Claim' see Notice 12A 'What you can do if things are seized by HMRC'.

Read about what you can do if things are seized by HMRC or Border Force in Notice 12A

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Getting your things back

You can write to HMRC asking for the return of your things even if you agree they were seized legally. This process is called restoration.

When writing you should include:

  • your full name and address
  • any customs reference number shown on the Seizure Information Notice (ENF156) or Notice of Seizure
  • any proof of ownership - such as purchase receipts
  • an explanation of why you think the items should be restored to you - include the full circumstances and enclose any available evidence to support your claim

If you are asking for your things back because you believe they were not legally seized, that is not a valid reason for requesting restoration. Instead you must challenge the seizure using the process described in the paragraph above.

To find out more about getting your things back, or to find an example restoration request letter, see section 4 of Notice 12A 'What you can do if things are seized by HMRC'.

Read about What you can do if things are seized by HMRC or Border Force in Notice 12A

What to do if you disagree with the decision

If HMRC decides not to return seized things to you or imposes conditions on their return, for example payment of a fee, you have the right to have the decision reviewed.

Appealing a decision where Customs have seized something from you

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Making a complaint

If you are unhappy about the way you have been treated during seizure of things, HMRC has a complaints procedure you can use.

Make a complaint to HM Revenue & Customs

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Getting more help and advice

If you need more information about seized things, you can contact the VAT Helpline or the Customs, International Trade & Excise enquiries.

Contact details for the VAT Helpline

Contact details for the Customs, International Trade & Excise enquiries

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More useful links

Going through customs

Tax and duty on goods brought to the UK from the EU

Tax and duty on goods brought to the UK from outside the EU

Customs procedures for goods posted to the UK

Read about Customs seizures and penalties on the GOV.UK website (Opens new window)

UKBA website (Opens new window)

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