Basic Import Procedures of UK HM Revenue and Customs

With a few exceptions, it is the responsibility of the exporter and importer to declare their import intention to Customs in accordance with the Customs and Excise Management Act (revised). This obligation is typically handled by the freight forwarder, who registers the import entry into HM UK Customs’ database – the “Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF). The CHIEF is accessible to registered organisations such as freight forwarders that are formally authorised by their clients, the importers, to register their imports. Customs permits declarations of intention to import made by parties other than the original importer. Direct and indirect declarations have equal legal validity.

Goods are usually not declared until the moment of their arrival in the UK, registration via CHIEF will occur days or weeks before physical goods meet the physical United Kingdom. Prior registration allows time for performance of creditability checking and speed up the customs declaration process.

Imports can be declared via another online database called the “Customs Freight Simplified Procedure” (CFSP). The CFSP allows less well-prepared imports to be processed. The system has only two requirements:

  • The legal minimal amount of information required by customs to the release the goods.
  • An SAD (Single Administration Document). The SAD includes information that is later used by HM government for financial and statistical purposes (e.g. quota control).

To be able to use the CFSP however, importers must satisfy a set of compliance and credibility criteria and have obtained prior customs approval. The declaration must also include a reliable monetary valuation of the goods. Goods beyond a certain value are likely to be subject to taxation.

 Every consignment of overseas originating cargo is systematically cleared by UK customs before it can legally and the United Kingdom. Goods that are dutiable, i.e. subject to taxation, are detained until the duties are paid. In some cases, carriers or other domestic carriers, such as the Postal Service, will pay customs charges and the withhold delivery and payment of those charges is provided by the recipient. Goods that are imported for inward processing relief, and goods stored in customs warehousing, are subject to different customs procedures, duties and clearance still apply. Freight forwarders commonly assume responsibility customs clearance and provision of the appropriate documentation of cargo entry. Alternatively, customs agents can be used to provide professional advice and perform clearance activities on behalf of the recipient/goods’ owner. Mistakes can result in overcharging and finds. Ultimately, responsibility for customs clearance lies with the importer. Customs related delay can result in demurrage charges, which are daily or hourly charges levied by customs (or the port authorities) for the storage space that is occupied by goods prior to their collection. Demurrage charges are also known as “detention charges”, and can be extremely costly, especially if I volumes of cargo (numerous shipping containers, for example) are involved, as ports and dock space are built for transfer and activity, not for static occupation. High demurrage charges are intended to encourage efficient customs preparation on the part of exporters and importers.

The minimum import documentation requirements are as follows: the commercial invoice (clearly and correctly completed); a precise and descriptive packing list detailing quantities of every individual item; a delivery address (ideally with a named recipient and postcode); onward transportation documents such as the bill of lading or the certificate of title (ownership); any documents specifying specialist customs requirements (certificate of origin, import licences, for example); and various other types of important for easily overlooked customs import entry preparation: appropriate tariff headings, any necessary supporting documentation (transportation documents etc.), a correct declaration of the value of the goods (so that VAT can be calculated).

Import preparation mistakes are a common cause of goods’ delay. Duplicated administrative work is an indirect cost of failure to complete import preparation correctly.