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 Topics
Related Articles
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions