What is it?

Distraint is the process by which the Inland Revenue seizes your belongings, with the intention of selling them to pay off your tax debts. To make matters worse, before a penny of your taxes are paid off, you must pay off the costs of distraint action. If at any time in the process you find the money to pay your debts you will be allowed to, but the costs up to that point will still have to be paid.

What happens?

At some time during daylight hours, from Monday to Saturday, a Revenue officer and possibly a bailiff will arrive at your house. The amount you owe will be explained to you and you will be given a chance to pay (rubber cheques will not help your cause, see below). If you do the distraint charges will likely be small. If you can't pay, then the official will make up an inventory of your belongings and give you a copy along with a list of your debts: the distraint notice. You will then have to sign a walking possession form, which allows you to keep your belongings until they are valued. Legally speaking they have already been seized at this point, even if they're still in your house.

You then have five days to pay up (or for your cheque to clear) or else the items will be removed, valued and ultimately sold without reserve at auction. Of course this costs money, more specifically it costs you money. If that old painting you had in the attic turns out to be a van Gogh, the money left over from the auction will be returned to you. If the money raised doesn't cover your bill and you still can't pay, you'll be taken to court where a suitable course of action will be decided.


Some items cannot be seized for fairly obvious reasons:

  • Things which don't belong to you or which are jointly owned - I'm not sure how you'd go on for stuff which you're still paying off on finance.
  • Perishable food
  • Beds and bedding
  • Clothing
  • The basic equipment for preparing a meal and sitting at a table to eat it
  • Livestock
  • Tools required for your trade

Inland Revenue - http://www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk

Dis*traint" (?), n. [OF. destrainte distress, force.] Law

The act or proceeding of seizing personal property by distress.



© Webster 1913.

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