Challenging a Seizure by Border Force

Peter Hastings, Rogers and Norton


We are often instructed by clients following them approaching Border Force direct to request for their goods to be released. Terminology such us “hand back” or “returned” will often be used, in the thinking that this will be sufficient to challenge the legality of the seizure.

Unfortunately Border Force will only act if it is made clear that you are challenging the seizure of the goods. Even if it is your intention to do so, unless made expressly clear, Border Force will treat the request as a request for the restoration of the goods and not for condemnation proceedings to be issued.

If Border Force believes that any imported goods are liable for excise duty that has not been paid, or there is either a contravention of any provision of regulations or a contravention of any condition or restriction imposed by or under regulations, this ultimately means the items are liable for forfeiture.

If you have had something seized by HMRC or Border Force and you don’t accept there was a legal right to seize it and you want them to consider returning it there are three options to pursue

  • Challenge the legality of the seizure by sending a notice of claim to HMRC or Border Force
  • Write to HMRC or Border Force asking for the thing to be returned to you even if you accept it was seized legally. – this is called restoration
  • Do both of the above at the same time by challenging the legality of the seizure and asking for the seized thing to be returned in the meantime.

It is important to understand that challenging the legality of the seizure and asking for restoration are two completely separate processes. The legality of a seizure is a matter that is dealt with before a court by way of condemnation proceedings, usually by a magistrate’s courts.

Restoration is decided by either HMRC or Border Force but if you don’t agree with their decision you can ask for a statutory review. If you choose the third option the two processes may be dealt with at the same time but in separate ways. They can’t be combined because magistrates’ courts and the First Tier Tax Tribunal have different areas of authority and jurisdiction.

If you don’t challenge the legality of the seizure by submitting a notice of claim, you won’t be able to challenge it later at the tribunal.

HMRC and Border Force’s general policy is not to return seized excise goods (such as alcohol or tobacco products), the vehicles used for commercial smuggling or anything that is prohibited (such as illegal drugs, offensive weapons or endangered plant and animal species) or where there has been an attempt to evade any duty.

They will however consider all requests for the return of seized things and take all relevant facts into account.

Dealing with HMRC Border Force can be a daunting and complicated process that involves adherence to strict protocols. If the systems aren’t followed in the correct way then delays will occur causing unnecessary costs and the potential loss of valuable goods. Seeking legal advice as quickly as possible will normally prove to be the most effective option when dealing with the seizure or stoppage.

Our expert litigation team have a wide experience in dealing with detentions, stoppages and the seizure of goods by UK Border Force. The team deals with the worldwide importation of goods to the UK, including the huge market from China. We work with clients who want goods restored at all major ports of entry, such as Felixstowe and London Gateway, together with Stansted, Gatwick & Heathrow.

We have a strong understanding of Border Force systems and can act quickly and decisively to support our clients in getting their goods restored.

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