What is a Discovery Assessment? When can HMRC make a Discovery? What are the time limits for Discovery Assessment?

Subscribers see Discovery Assessments for full details, examples and current case law and developments.

This is a freeview 'At a glance' guide to Discovery Assessments.

Discovery is only possible where a detailed series of conditions are met.

At a glance

HMRC have the power to re-open a past year of assessment if they discover an under assessment that results in a loss of tax, and raise a Discovery Assessment.

  • There must be an incomplete disclosure leading to a loss of tax of some kind.
  • The number of years after the end of the tax year that HMRC may go back to depends on the type of failure.
  • Where a return has been submitted under Self Assessment, the Discovery provisions provide that HMRC must meet certain conditions and the time limits for Discovery depend on underlying conduct of the taxpayer or their agent in preparing that return.
  • No discovery is possible without evidence: the onus is on HMRC to prove an incomplete disclosure or loss of tax.
  • A future discovery can be avoided by including suitable disclosures on a Return.

Time limits may extend where HMRC is able adopt the Presumption of continuity and it is presumed that the same loss of tax will arise year on year. It is then up to the taxpayer to show that there was no continuity of the fault.

Time limits

Time limit (years)




Incomplete disclosure

Not due to careless or deliberate conduct


A loss of tax

Due to careless conduct


A loss of tax

  • Due to a deliberate action, or
  • A failure to notify liability, or
  • Attributable to a notifiable tax avoidance scheme (DOTAS), a hallmarked scheme or listed scheme, and the user failed to notify HMRC.


Taxpayers are also restricted as to the number of years that they may go back to seek relief from an overpayment after making an error or mistake in a return, see Overpayment relief.

Useful guides on this topic

Discovery Assessments 
When can HMRC issue an assessment outside of the normal statutory time limits? What conditions must be met? What are your rights of appeal and defences?

Failure to Notify Chargeability
What is failure to notify chargeability to tax? What happens if you fail to notify HMRC about your taxes? What penalties apply for failing to notify HMRC that you have a tax liability?

Investigations: the presumption of continuity
What is the Presumption of Continuity? When does it apply?

How to appeal an HMRC decision
Disagree with a HMRC decision? How to appeal, what type of decision can you appeal, what are your different options when you disagree with HMRC? What are the key steps in making an appeal?

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