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HMRC urges importers to switch to new customs IT system as outgoing platform enters final weeks


Credit: Ralf Roletschek/CC BY 3.0

HM Revenue and Customs has urged import businesses that are yet to sign up for the UK’s new digital customs system to do so as a matter of urgency, as preparations continue to shut down the outgoing platform for good.

The Customs Declaration Service (CDS) began operating in 2018 and is replacing the nearly 30-year-old CHIEF system, which will close for import declarations on 30 September. The platform will stop processing export declarations on 31 March 2023 – at which point the service will close for good.

With just four months left for import firms – and a further six for exporters – HMRC has urged any traders yet sign up for CDS to do so as quickly as possible. The tax agency has sent letters and emails to companies across the country to “set out the steps [they] must take now to ensure they can continue trading… [and] signpost to online resources to support [them] through the process”.

This includes an online ‘Trader Dress Rehearsal’ service, which allows users to practise using a dummy version of the platform – using their own real account information and internal software systems.

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Other support resources include a step-by-step checklist allowing firms to plan the process of switching over, as well as videos, webinars, and webchat and telephone helplines.

“Whether you make your own declarations or use an intermediary, HMRC is urging you to act now to plan and make your move to the Customs Declaration Service,” the department said. “It can take some time to complete the preparation needed and the sooner you start, the easier it will be.”

The tax agency said that the new system “a resilient, reliable and adaptable IT platform which… is the first step of the UK border transformation”.

Advantages of CDS cited by HMRC include the ability “submit customs documents digitally and safely using the Secure File Upload service”.

Traders will also benefit from “real-time notifications” on all declarations and movements of goods, as well as a dashboard from which they can “view account statements, make payments and control standing authority”, according to the department.

CDS is based on IBM’s Declaration Management System software. A multimillion-pound contract to support the infrastructure – with support services “backed off to IBM” – was signed with IT reseller SCC in 2016 and renewed last year for another five-year term, worth £85m to the tech provider.

Work to deliver CDS was already underway at the time of the EU membership referendum in 2016. At the time, the intention was to build a system that could cope with 100 million customs declarations each year – comfortably in excess of the pre-Brexit annual total of about 55 million. However, the public’s decision to leave the European Union meant that, overnight, the system needed to be expanded to be able handle at least 250 million submissions per year.



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