Border Force (BF) will try to intimidate you into not appealing against the seizure of your goods. They do this by saying that you will face costs of £1500 plus if you take your case to court and lose. However, HMRCs recent tactic makes these Border Force threats totally irrelevant. HMRC wait till the time lapses that you can appeal (1 calendar month) and the Condemnation Proceedings are rubber stamped and THEN they hit you with a Duty Bill of £164.11 per kg! This surely removes any doubts you had about appealing :)
When you have your goods seized by Border Force, the first thing you must do is send for a Subject Access Request (SAR) to get a copy of the seizing officer's notebook. This is because you won't get a copy of it at the time of the seizure. The SAR will take up to 40 days ... 10 days longer than you have to appeal.
Even if you audio recorded the whole interview, you still need a copy of said notebook to compare it's contents to the transcript of the audio recording you made. Hopefully you did not sign the officer's notebook as being a "true and factual account" of the interview.
For those of you that didn't record the interview and also signed the officer's notebook ... all is not necessarily lost.
The next thing you have to do is appeal against the seizure. You have 30 days to do this. you should also have been given a 156 notice that states what Border Force seized off you and the ID of the officer that seized them. Also on here should be a reference number and an address that you send your appeal to. Unfortunately this is often missing so the address to send the appeal (recorded delivery) to is:-
National Post Seizure Unit
3rd Floor West Point
Tel 01752 765817
Fax 01752 765816
Photocopy the 156 notice and send it with your appeal (keep a copy of your appeal for your records). Also send a copy of your appeal to your MP.
We now come to the appeal itself. The advice given on HMRC's website is confusing to say the least. Because you are appealing against the seizure of your excise goods that were for personal (and gifts), that means you have to put in a Notice of Claim (NOC) this is your Appeal Against Seizure. There is no need to be nice, be forceful (not abusive).
Many people mistakenly take the other option which is 'Restoration'. The reason is, as stated by HMRC themselves :-
You will not be given a decision on restoration if your reason for that request is that things were not legally seized or, in the case of excise goods, they were imported for your 'own use'.
We like to head the appeal letter with Appeal Against Seizure (Notice Of Claim) followed by Urgent Assessment Requested. We used to put 'Review' but now put 'Assessment' because of the internal language used by the National Post Seizure Unit (NPSU).
NPSU do not use the word 'review' when dealing with Notice of Claim appeals. The word 'review' is only used when dealing with 'Restoration' claims. What NPSU carry out is a Pre-Condemnation Assessment' (PCA) and then they send you their findings in a 'Pre- Condemnation Assessment Letter' (PCAL).
No, don't ask ... HM Customs used to be perfectly happy calling them reviews. There is the likelihood that NPSU could refuse a request for a review because you didn't ask for an assessment. Don't laugh, it has just happened to someone!
So, make it clear for the NPSU PCA Officer :)
You can just put in an NOC and wait for the court case but your aim should be to get this resolved at this stage so to as not go to court. To do this you have to show that the reasons the BF officer gave when they seized your goods are wrong so you'll have to address each reason in detail. Supply NPSU with documents and facts to prove your case. Go further than this and throw everything at them including the kitchen sink. Write it in such a way that others like the magistrates (should it end up in court) can see that you did everything possible to avoid your NOC going to court. The inference being that NPSU's decision to take it to court was totally unreasonable. The contents of your transcript of your audio recording should give you plenty to work with. Pick up on every minor detail no matter how small.
For those of you that didn't record the interview and signed the officer's notebook, try and remember everything you can and write it down as early as possible. lf you feel you were pressurised or intimidated into signing this notebook ... put it into your NOC. The officer will state that you read the contents of their notebook. Did you? Could you read it? Did you understand it? ... if not, put it into your NOC.
When NPSU receive your NOC then all you have to do is wait for the reply. lf in the meantime your SAR turns up and you find things in it that support your case ... write them down and send it to the NPSU.
When you get your reply (the PCAL) from NPSU you'll invariably find that not only has the PCA Officer rejected your evidence in favour of the seizing officer but they've probably added a few other spurious reasons for seizure. DON'T BE FAZED by this, it's common practice in our experience. We call it a reply by the 'coffee machine'.
Write back and tell them to look at it again ... and to read it this time. If they've added spurious reasons, address these too but be forceful. Keep on at them by phone, fax, e-mail, letter ... and keep at them. By this time you should definitely have your SAR, so use anything in it that you can.
We've seen lately that the NPSU seem to be using another tactic and that is to press on with taking your NOC to court regardless ... and then just as your case date is very near ... they give in! This in our view is another variation of their Maximum Disruption policy to cause you as much inconvenience as possible. No doubt hoping that you won't cross-border shop again because of the recent experiences inflicted on you. lt should however prove to be the exact opposite ... because you WON!
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