HMRC has granted importers a one-month stay of execution from adopting a new computer system for customs declarations over concerns that too many businesses are unprepared.
The existing 30-year-old regime, called Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight, or CHIEF, was due to close for import declarations on September 30. It is to be replaced by the Customs Declaration Service.
However, HMRC said at the start of August that about 3,500 businesses had yet to register and yesterday it published a new form on its website for importers to use if they need an extension.
“If you have been unable to migrate to the Customs Declaration Service to make import declarations you will need to ask permission to temporarily use CHIEF from 1 October 2022,” it states.
Trade advisers welcomed the move. “It is clear there are still a lot of importers who are not ready for the switch,” said Matt Vick, a customs and trade specialist at the Institute of Export & International Trade.
However, Liam Smyth, managing director of the consultants ChamberCustoms, warned that many small importers were still in danger of losing out and said that a month extension “will not be enough”.
“If firms are shut out of CHIEF before they are ready then they will effectively be cut adrift and find themselves unable to import,” he said. “With all the other cost pressures and supply chain disruption businesses have been facing, it is perhaps unsurprising that some have yet to act, but it is now getting to crunch time.”
The move comes ahead of the peak period for goods imports as retailers stock up for the Black Friday sales and Christmas trading.
It also coincides with the start of a two-week strike at the port of Liverpool, where workers are taking industrial action over pay. It followed a similar strike at Felixstowe docks, Britain’s largest containerport, at the end of August.
A spokeswoman for HMRC said: “The arrangements we’re making to enable those who need a little extra time to migrate will ensure that there is no disruption to trade flow.”