Customs seizures and penalties

HMRC official warnings

When HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) believes a trader has contravened regulations, they may send a warning letter.

Customs civil penalty warning letters

For some irregularities a direct customs civil penalty (CCP) may be considered appropriate. These are issued for serious errors or where HMRC has given clear written advice which has been ignored. Each case is looked at on its own merit and most cases would not result in a direct penalty being issued.

HMRC encourages traders to comply with regulations. The HMRC website provides information about requirements and how to comply. Issuing warnings is part of HMRC procedure to support traders without having to issue financial penalties.

Customs officers may issue warning letters - or in certain circumstances financial penalties to traders for the first contravention of customs rules and regulations. HMRC will consider all the facts of the case and then select the most appropriate course of action.

Find Notice 301 on the warning process for civil penalties for contraventions of customs law.

Warning letters for a contravention of customs regulations give details of the alleged contravention. Traders alleged to have contravened customs regulations will be warned that if there is a further broadly similar contravention within a two-year period a penalty demand may be issued.

Civil penalty warning letters stay on record for two years, after which they expire. If there is a further contravention after two years have passed, a new warning letter lasting another two years or a Penalty Demand may be issued.

Warning letters for deficiencies in systems or records set out what must be done by traders to comply. Deadlines are set to allow traders time to rectify any deficiencies. If traders fail to comply, penalties may be issued.

However, in case of serious errors HMRC will not send a warning letter first. Officers may issue a penalty demand for a first contravention in cases where the resulting customs debt is £10,000 or more, or if traders or agents have been given written guidance by customs.

The civil penalty officer will make this decision after evaluating the circumstances. Traders retain the right to request a departmental review and can appeal decisions to issue warning letters and penalties to an independent tribunal.

Disagreeing with a customs warning letter

If traders do not agree with the customs civil penalty warning letter, they can request a departmental review. If they are still not satisfied, they have the right to appeal to the Independent tribunal. Read more about disagreeing with a penalty.