HMRC steps up no-deal prep by auto-enrolling traders in customs system

EORI numbers to be automatically issued to 88,000 firms across the UK

Credit: Ralf Roletschek/CC BY 3.0

The government will start automatically enrolling companies in a key customs system as it ramps up preparations for a no-deal Brexit

More than 88,000 companies will be allocated an Economic Operator Register and Identification (EORI) number in the next two weeks, the Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs have announced today, adding to the 72,000 firms who have already registered.

EORI numbers are used by non-EU member states to allow them to import or export goods into or out of the bloc, and chancellor Sajid Javid said the UK was “accelerating its preparations” to leave the EU on 31 October.

Letters to businesses containing their assigned EORI number will arrive within two weeks, while traders also need to decide whether to apply for transitional simplified procedures to make it easier to import goods from the EU.

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“There can be no time for delay which is why HMRC has allocated thousands of businesses with a trading number to ensure they can continue to trade their goods through Europe from day one,” Javid said. “This will help ease the flow of goods at border points and support businesses to trade and grow.”

But the announcement was given a muted reception by business groups.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said: “If the nightmare of a chaotic no-deal Brexit on 31 October becomes a reality, our small traders will the first ones off the cliff. Overnight, small business exporters will have to contend with growth sapping tariffs and time consuming customs declarations. These businesses are the ones that need to prepare the most, so it is welcome to see the Government has listened to us and is taking concrete action.”

Meanwhile the CBI – which represents larger firms – said the announcement was “a sensible move” but “one of hundreds of things that needed to be done” to prepare Britain to leave the EU without a deal.

Over the past three years, readying the UK’s own customs arrangements for Brexit has been a major area of focus for HMRC. On the day of the EU referendum, the department was already engaged in work to replace the outgoing CHIEF IT platform with a new digital system: the Customs Declaration Service.

The incoming system had originally been designed to be able to deal with 100 million declarations each year – comfortably more than the current annual tally of about 55 million. But, after the UK has left the EU, this figure is set to rise to about 250 million.

Despite such challenges, the rollout of CDS began successfully last year. However, as of last month, HMRC said that the system was still being used by only a “minimal user base”. The department issued a contract notice seeking a supplier to fulfil a £3m contract dedicated to helping HMRC meet “ambitious timelines” for ramping up migration to the new platform.


Sam Trendall

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