UK: Corporate Tax: When HMRC Come Calling With A Warrant

Last Updated: 9 February 2015
Article by George Gillham

What this article does is provide a short practical guide to searches of premises under warrant by HMRC, and how to minimise the chance of that happening to you. It's not a substitute for legal advice, so if HMRC turn up with a warrant, or if you fear they might, call us before they call on you.

You are first to arrive at your company HQ one morning.  As you open the door, eight men and women in stab-proof vests get out of an unmarked van and approach you. One of them hands you a document. It's a warrant to search the company premises. 

What should you do?

Don't panic. The first thing is to check the warrant. It should state clearly which regulatory authority is visiting; what they are looking for; how many people are allowed to look for it; for how long; and on how many occasions. You should also be able to work out whether or not it is your company that is the focus of the regulatory authority's investigation (bad) or whether spotlight is trained on another company and they are just seeking documents that relate to that other company (likely to be much less unpleasant).

The next thing to do is to check in with one of the senior management team of your company. If it is your company that is under investigation there's a sporting chance the senor management have had a visit from the same authority themselves and are in custody. So they may not be contactable even on their emergency numbers.

Then call a lawyer. Fieldfisher has a single 24-hour emergency number you can call for assistance in the event of a regulatory raid- 0161 981 0989. All you need to tell our operator is who you are, where you are, and which regulatory authority has come to call and you will be connected through to a Partner in the firm with experience in dealing with unexpected visits by that authority. 

Dawn Raids by HMRC

On reading it you find the warrant has been made out to HMRC. This is much more likely than it used to be. The Government (and the CPS) have said repeatedly that their target is to raise the number of tax cases prosecuted 'five‐fold' by the end of this tax year. HMRC carries out raids when it suspects a tax fraud has been committed and it believe there is relevant evidence on the premises in question. Given the commitment to prosecute many more people, HMRC's criminal investigations activity ‐ interviews under caution, arrests, and searches of premises under warrant ‐ has been dramatically stepped up.

Where HMRC turn up with a warrant to search your premises they are not doing so on a whim. Criminal investigations, and especially raids, are extremely expensive for HMRC to undertake. If it is indeed your company that is the focus of the investigation, there will have been a significant period where HMRC have been gathering information and conducting surveillance. Permission to apply for a warrant will have had to have been given at a senior level within HMRC. HMRC will also have had to present evidence to a Judge to persuade that Judge to issue the warrant to search for the company premises. So while it is conceivable that HMRC are acting under a misapprehension, and we have seen occasional cases where we believe this to be the case, it is much more likely that, somewhere in your organisation, someone has some explanations to make.

Once you have your lawyer on the phone ask the HMRC team leader to speak to them. Ask HMRC to wait until your lawyer arrives on the premises before starting the search. HMRC do not have to wait but may do so if you ask and can provide a timescale for the lawyer's arrival; and it's also more likely they will wait if your company is not the primary focus of the investigation. If HMRC refuse to wait, ask them at least not to take anything away until your lawyer arrives.

Once the lawyer has arrived, your role is going to be to minimise disruption to the business where possible. You should check if any clients are planning to visit the company HQ that day- and if possible cancel any appointments. If clients are going to be coming in you don't want them seeing a group of HMRC officers riffling through the paperwork, so find a room for HMRC to use as a base that is out of sight of reception. Make sure it's a room with a photocopier nearby so seized documents can be photocopied if they are business critical. HMRC can take away any documents they want, as well as any electronic devices they want; if they do take them away, it will be months before you see them again.

Ideally agreement can be reached with HMRC that the documents be brought to HMRC in the room they have been installed in. If not, and if other staff from your company have started arriving by this point, get one of your staff to shadow each member of the search team and take a detailed note of what they are doing. You will get copies of 'log sheets' at the end of the raid but they are often not sufficiently descriptive to enable you to work out what has been taken from where. So it's better to have your own note.

Your staff should be told not to physically obstruct the search team and not to destroy or conceal information or documents. All of these can be criminal offences and can lead to arrest. (A reputation management tip: your staff should be instructed not to tell anyone that the search is going on. I have seen Facebook status updates saying "We're being raided :-o"...) 

If the warrant is issued in England or Wales the search team cannot interview anyone at the premises about the alleged offences which have led to the issue of the warrant. So questions asked of your staff should be restricted to matters relating to the search (i.e. 'where would I find document x?', 'what is the password for y?').

An HMRC officer can arrest any member of your staff ‐ without a warrant ‐ if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed and that that person is guilty of it. The search warrant may also allow HMRC to search your staff without arrest. Searches must be carried out by an officer of the same gender.

As mentioned earlier it is possible that members of staff (especially, where your company is the focus of the investigation, senior staff) may have been arrested at home in advance of the search of the premises. If this is the case, they will also need legal advice, including about whether to answer questions in any interview under caution. It is possible they may need legal advice independent of the company, but that is a discussion for whoever attends them at the police station to have with them.

Notify your insurers if you have legal expenses insurance, check the conditions of any bank debt or debt factoring facilities to see if notifications are also necessary there, and talk to your PR company about lines to take if you anticipate media interest. 

Could this happen to your company?

Our experience is that the companies that find themselves falling foul of an HMRC criminal investigation are often ones that are successful and have been growing quickly. It is often the case in high-growth companies that the administrative systems fall behind the growth of the business, the management are focussed on growth and profit rather than internal controls, and available funds are spent accordingly. This is where the opportunity for tax malpractice can creep in- often perks for the workforce, which are not properly captured on employees' PAYE returns but also, more rarely and more seriously, cash bonuses, facilitation payments and so on. Proper tax compliance is sometimes conceived of by charismatic and successful business leaders as 'boring'. And it is. But if it is not done right, tax can become exciting for all the wrong sorts of reasons.

There are sometimes signs that HMRC are conducting a criminal investigation. Investigations often grow out of a normal civil enquiry into the company, sometimes an 'aspect' enquiry into something like the benefits declared on the PAYE returns for the Directors. Always be cautious if after a first round of explanations have been given the officer conducting the enquiry comes back to ask more questions. Ask yourself, why are they asking these further questions? Are they leading you into a situation where you might be defending the indefensible? And if such an enquiry 'goes quiet' for any period of time, the officer conducting the enquiry may be obtaining internal advice from the criminal investigations team, or acting under their instructions. You should call a lawyer.

How to make sure it doesn't happen to you

You should be aware that the financial costs of dealing with a regulatory raid can be enormous. Working out who and what HMRC suspect, and engaging with those people and with HMRC going forward, can be an enormously time intensive process for your lawyers and accountants. It is not unusual for investigations to go on for two years, or more, after a raid and your company may need specialist professional assistance throughout that period. It is much, much, better and ultimately much, much, cheaper to have robust systems in place, in advance, such that you can clearly demonstrate the policies and procedures by which the company ensures compliance with all applicable tax laws. We strongly recommend you work with a reputable firm of business accountants to put appropriate systems in place.  

If, in the process of working with your accountant to put such robust systems in place, you uncover evidence of past tax malpractice within the organisation, again you should instruct specialist lawyers immediately, work with them to make an early notification to HMRC of the issue that has arisen, and make an application for the Contractual Disclosure Facility. Our experience is that where this happens promptly HMRC are content to let you complete your own investigation of the issue and are happy for you to put your own house in order- rather than for them to have to do it for you. While the tax, interest, and penalties that are the result of such a disclosure are painful, and often difficult for the company to meet, and while it can be traumatic for the organisation if it is necessary to dismiss directors or employees for gross misconduct, the reality is that this is much better that the seismic disruption that an HMRC criminal investigation will cause- which will sometimes be fatal for the business. 

Regulatory Raids and Incidents Hotline- 0161 981 0989

Field Fisher Waterhouse have a wealth of practical experience over many years of assisting with attendances under warrant by HM Revenue & Customs, the European Commission, the Office of Fair Trading, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority, as well as attendances by the Health and Safety Agency following accidents. We attend and advise at interviews under caution clients arrested by any of the above regulatory authorities. And we deal with attendances at the premises of clients where search and seize orders, freezing orders, and employment related injunctions are being served.  

Please call the number above- it's manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year should you need our urgent assistance following a raid or arrest by any of these regulatory authorities. You will be asked a few questions by our operator to enable them to direct you straight to the correct Partner within our experienced team. Please note that we do not provide advice under any duty solicitor scheme and we do not advise on criminal legal matters other than in the specific categories set out above.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

George Gillham
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.