The United Kingdom Warehousing Association (UKWA) has given a cautious welcome to the government’s new Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which is due to be introduced shortly before Brexit.

CDS replaces ageing software originally created in 1989 called Customs Handling of Import & Export Freight (CHIEF) and will be phased in between August 2018 and January 2019. It will process up to 255 million declarations each year compared to the current system’s 55 million.

UKWA’s CEO Peter Ward said: “We welcome the introduction of the new CDS to replace the CHIEF system, which is desperately outdated and already creaking at the seams, but we need reassurances from the government that the new system will cope with the estimated 200 million extra customs entries that will result from Brexit.”

Ward said there is considerable confusion about what lies ahead with customs regimes, something that is of huge concern to UKWA’s members and high on the organisation’s agenda.

“Arguably, this single most important issue will affect all our lives – it is critical, not just for businesses, but for everyone who depends on the seamless flow of goods into and out of our country, that we get this right,” he said.

CDS was originally due to be introduced in 2020 but was brought forward following the Brexit vote. As with CHIEF, companies will process import and export declarations, calculate and pay duties and taxes and complete customs information electronically.

Brexit stamp

But CDS will be accessed through a Government Gateway account and will offer several services in one place, including data about previous imports and exports and access to self-service tools, guides and checklists.

In addition, further information will be required under an international customs agreement called the World Customs Organisation Kyoto Convention.

As well as UKWA’s concerns, there are worries about timing. A National Audit Office report last year said: “There is still a significant amount of work to complete and there is a risk that HMRC will not have the full functionality and scope of CDS in place by March 2019 when the UK plans to leave the EU.”

Customs issues will be among the topics discussed at UKWA’s national conference being held in Chesterfield from March 7-8, which will be addressed by HMRC representatives and UKWA’s customs advisor.

By Simon Jack