HMRC delays closure of CHIEF customs IT system after ‘listening to industry feedback’

Department announces that it will now take a ‘phased approach’ to moving exporters to the new Customs Declaration service, with total replacement of outgoing system pushed back by four months

HM Revenue and Customs claims that industry feedback informed its decision to push back the shutdown of the UK’s outgoing customs IT system by a further four months.

The department today announced that the final deadline for shutting down the 30-year-old CHIEF IT platform – and moving all export declarations to the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) – has moved from 30 November to 30 March 2024. All import declarations have been processed via CDS since October 2022.

This is the second time the switch-off has been postponed; the original timetable for completing the switchover for export services was 30 March 2023. Earlier this year, that deadline was shifted back by eight months.

The extension by a further four months comes in light of HMRC “listening to feedback from industry”, the department said in today’s announcement.

The tax agency said that it will be adopting a “phased approach” to migrating export businesses from CHIEF to CDS over the coming weeks and months.

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The intention is that, working alongside approved software providers, HMRC “will support selected high-volume declarants to move to CDS for exports” by the previous deadline of 30 November.  The four months thereafter will be dedicated to ensuring that the long tail of all other users are successfully moved to the new system.

At the end of which, the goal is for CHIEF to be switched off for good at the end of March next year.

The department said that the two-stage migration approach “will enable HMRC and delivery partners to build on the existing IT testing as well as undertake additional performance analysis while businesses with the existing IT functionality start to migrate [and] It will also enable… export declarants to make a smooth migration to CDS”.

Sarah Hartley, director of border change delivery at HMRC, said: “Having worked closely with our industry partners, we’re introducing a phased approach for moving export declarations to CDS. Those businesses who have the IT functionality in place are still able to move across to CDS by Thursday 30 November 2023, ahead of the majority who will now migrate at the beginning of 2024. Full guidance, resources and support will be available for all declarants to ensure the transition across to CDS is as smooth as possible for every business.”

Steve Bartlett, chairman of the Association of Freight Software Suppliers (AFSS), added: “The AFSS and our members fully support the revised timescales for the transition of Export declarations from CHIEF to CDS. This moves away from the seasonal peak and also allows more focus to help customers migrate to NCTS5 in November. We thank HMRC for the continued collaboration and consultation with us, to ensure a successful completion of the CDS journey for everyone by the end of March 2024.”

As the deadline for import firms to switch to CDS drew close last year, PublicTechnology exclusively reported on issues with HMRC’s internal systems that had resulted in thousands of traders encountering more than 18 months of difficulties in registering for the new platform – including hundreds that had completely unable to do so.

The department’s implementation of the new customs IT system began 10 years ago and has faced numerous major challenges during that time. The most of significant of these came in light of the Brexit referendum in 2016, the result of which meant that, overnight, plans for the project – which was already three years into delivery – needed to account for a fivefold increase in declarations resulting from the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The initial plan was to build a platform capable of handling 100 million customs declarations annually – a figure comfortably in excess of the 55 million that were typically processed each year before the country left the EU. In the post-Brexit world, government expects the UK customs system to be required to process an annual total of about 250 million import and export declarations.

Sam Trendall

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