HMRC ‘working to fix’ customs IT problems after months of issues with traders’ VAT statements

Users of the new service – which is due to fully replace the outgoing system next year – have found statements incorrect or missing

Credit: Ralf Roletschek/CC BY 3.0

HM Revenue and Customs is currently “working to fix” an issue with the Customs Declaration Service IT system, through which a number of users have been had problems accessing VAT statements for the last four months.

On the GOV.UK webpage dedicated to updates on “service availability and issues” for the CDS platform, HMRC last week published an update revealing that “there has been a technical issue with statements produced in June 2022”. 

As of Wednesday, 13 July, registered users of the platform were advised that the tax agency’s “VAT figures may not be correct”, and that any figures contained in statements published across the whole of last week – 4 to 8 July – should not be downloaded or used for any other purpose.

“Corrected statements will be issued shortly and will show on your dashboard with a date later than 13 July 2022,” the notice said. “Further guidance will be available as soon as the corrected statements have been published.”

The department added that its officials have “identified the issue and are working to rectify it”. This status has not been changed since last Wednesday.

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However, even if the issue has been correctly identified, it would appear to be recurring.

A notice published in late April also revealed a “technical issue with statements produced” during the month which, again, meant “import VAT figures may not have been correct”.

CDS users that downloaded their April statement from HMRC before 16 May were advised that they “should not use that statement to complete your VAT return”.

After the issue was fixed, traders were advised that they could download a replacement statement, which would be dated 16 or 17 May.

The problems of April followed issues also encountered by CDS in the preceding month.

“We are aware that some importers had problems accessing March 2022 statements,” said an update published by HMRC several months ago. 

The department claimed that, while the issue has been “identified and resolved”, users that were “still experiencing problems with… statements [should] contact the imports and exports helpline”.

The update added: “If you do not have access to statements but need to complete your VAT return, you can estimate your import VAT figures for those months. If you do need to estimate your import VAT and can show that you followed the guidance, then HMRC will not impose penalties on errors that might occur.”

In light of the most recent issues, PublicTechnology asked HMRC what was causing the problems, and when they might be fixed permanently.

A spokesperson said: “A systems issue means importers are currently unable to access their monthly Postponed VAT statements online. We’re working to fix this issue as soon as possible and apologise for any inconvenience.”

The department also indicated that anyone experiencing problems can call a helpline for imports and exports.

The tax agency is currently nearing the end of the process of retiring the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system, which has been used to process traders’ import and export declarations since 1994 and is now being replaced by CDS.

As of 5 July, the outgoing platform is no longer accepting new registrations for importers. It will stop processing import declarations altogether on 30 September, after which point all import declarations and tax affairs will be handled via CDS. CHIEF will stop processing export declarations on 31 March next year and, thereafter, will be shut down completely.


Sam Trendall

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