We outline the rights and safeguards the law gives you when HMRC have asked to visit your business premises so that they may inspect the premises and any business assets or business documents that are there. These visits are also known as inspections.
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HMRC’s request must be reasonable
HMRC can only carry out an inspection if it is reasonable for them to do so to check your tax position.
Seven days’ notice
HMRC can only carry out their inspection at a time which you agree to, or at any reasonable time if they have given you seven days’ notice. See below on unannounced visits.
You do not have to let HMRC in
HMRC cannot normally enter residential premises.
If any part of your premises is used solely as a dwelling, HMRC may not enter or inspect it.
You can ask them to show that the inspection is carried out by, or with the agreement of, an authorised HMRC officer.
They must give you, or the person who appears to be in charge of the premises, a notice stating the possible consequences of obstructing the inspection. If nobody is at the premises, they must leave the notice somewhere conspicuous.
Visits with the approval of the tribunal
Their application to the tribunal must be made by, or with the agreement of, an authorised HMRC officer.
The tribunal must be satisfied that, in the circumstances, the inspection is justified.
If HMRC wish to take away documents with them
HMRC can take away documents if it appears to them to be necessary to do so, but the law only allows them to do so at a reasonable time and keep them for a reasonable period.
You are entitled to ask for a receipt for the document and, if you reasonably require the document for any purpose in the meantime, ask for a copy of it. HMRC must provide these free of charge. If HMRC remove a document and it is lost or damaged, they must compensate you accordingly.
The Human Rights Act 1998 gives you the fundamental right to respect for your private and family life, your home and your correspondence.
However, it allows a public authority such as HMRC to interfere with your exercise of this right if such interference is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society – for example for the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of crime, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
This means that any request by HMRC must be reasonable and proportionate for the purpose of checking your tax position. If for example you can give them the information they need by some other means, and are prepared to do so, HMRC should normally accept that and not carry on with their inspection.
If you believe HMRC’s actions infringe your human rights, you are entitled to bring court proceedings against them, or cite their alleged infringement in any appeal to the tribunal.
HMRC’s guidance on visits or inspections is found in their compliance factsheets – specifically CC/FS3, CC/FS4 and CC/ FS5.
There is general information about your rights and responsibilities in the HMRC Charter.