HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) may have been accommodating in the early years after the 2008 financial crash, but not any longer.
In the last three years HMRC use of powers of distraint and seizure of goods from SMEs that have failed to pay VAT, PAYE and also on late payment of self assessment tax bills has been rapidly increasing.
In 2014-2015 distraint powers were used to seize business assets from 1,080 SMEs, according to the finance organisation Funding Options, quoted in an article by Business Money in July. By comparison, 1,376 seizures were carried out in 2011-12 and just 730 in 2010-11.
Previously, these powers had almost fallen into disuse. Then, after 2008 HMRC showed some forbearance for businesses facing difficult economic circumstances with them approving approximately 400,000 Time to Pay arrangements.
However, the signs are that for the last three years, with Government pressing for improved tax gathering, distraint has become more and more aggressively pursued and increasingly in cases of late payment of self-assessment tax bills.
Under these powers Revenue officers have enforcement rights and can attend company premises after issuing a Notice of Enforcement if payment is not made within seven days.
The officer can then take control of the company’s assets whether by walking possession (seizure of goods without removal) or immediate removal and if payment is not made within a further seven days, the goods can be sold to recover the money owed.
The introduction of real time monitoring of PAYE and wages SMEs a couple of years back means that HMRC has far more accurate information about what companies are likely to owe in tax and are plainly acting far more quickly and decisively to recover it.