Taking control of goods (previously walking possession)
'Taking control of goods' is a legal term used by the enforcement department of HMRC to recover goods as a way of debt repayment. An HMRC officer will first issue a Notice of Enforcement to recover debt (after receiving a Writ of Control).
If, after seven days (excluding Sundays and Bank Holidays), the debtor has not paid, the HMRC officer can visit the premises and take control of the goods.
Once the officer arrives, he or she will record all valuable assets and ‘take’ control. The debtor will be given a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) to sign. If the debtor refuses, goods can be removed immediately. The officer then has to give seven days notice of the sale. That said, it’s usually best to agree to the CGA so your goods aren't taken away! If the goods stay, they must not be sold or traded - this is a criminal offence.
If the CGA is signed, the company then has seven days (seven days if rent arrears) to pay back the debt and distraint fees. If this is not paid in that time, the officer can then remove the assets to sell at auction.
Note: when the officer takes control of the goods, he or she can force entry but can't enter through an open window, for example. The officer can enforce seven days a week between 6am and 9pm, other than Christmas and bank holidays or within normal trading hours.
What goods can they take?
Bailiffs can seize:
- Business stock
- Company cars/lorries
- Office equipment
How can I avoid a Notice of Enforcement?
In order to prevent the taking control of goods and legal action, it’s always best to contact HMRC and/or your landlord to try and negotiate a payment plan.
If you are falling behind with payments, don’t ignore warning letters or brush everything under the carpet. If you are struggling to pay VAT or PAYE, you might be able to have A Time to Pay deal (TTP) arranged with HMRC.
If rent is the problem, get in touch with your landlord and see if you can negotiate payments. They probably don’t want to lose you as a long-term renter so they may be open to suggestions.
Time is of the essence in this situation so make contact as soon as you see the company coming into problems.
If they aren’t willing to negotiate, seek legal or insolvency advice to avoid further problems.
What can I do if an officer has already taken control of goods?
There may still be time to stop the officer from removing and selling your goods by considering a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) or administration. Either of these can protect the business against legal actions and aggressive creditors. A CVA would allow a restructure of the company and a debt repayment plan could be put in place.
Administration is also an option if a suitable buyer can be found as the business itself can continue. While in administration, it is again protected against legal actions and creditors.