HMRC sets 4 June shut-off date for CHIEF customs system


Customs Declaration Service now open for all imports and exports, meaning traders have entered migration window of three months in which they must get up and running on new system

In the year it celebrates its 30th birthday, the UK’s long-standing CHIEF customs IT system now has a definitive shutdown date, with the platform to cease processing all trade declarations on 4 June.

The timeline for permanently switching off CHIEF – which stands for Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight – has been incrementally pushed back several times, having originally been scheduled for 30 March 2023.

But HM Revenue and Customs has this week set a definitive deadline by which traders must complete their switch to the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) – which is now open for export declarations from all businesses.

CDS began operating in 2018 and the process of migrating of all import submissions to the new platform was completed in October 2022. About 30% of all export declarations are now also made via CDS, according to HMRC.

In August 2023, the tax agency announced that it would push back CHIEF’s ultimate shutdown date to 30 March 2024 and take a “phased approach” to migrating exporters to the incoming customs system.

By October, PublicTechnology exclusively reported that, following major difficulties experienced by some importers in registering for CDS, HMRC was making contingency plans in case some businesses found themselves unable to successfully switch over by the proposed cut-off date. Documents suggested that, at this point, the department was already working to a deadline of finishing all migration by June  2024 – three months after the formal slated deadline.


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Last month, we revealed that each trader would be given a three-month “extended migration” window – beginning from the point at which export declarations became available to them on CDS.

With the new system being open to all businesses from early March onwards, the final retirement date for CHIEF now seems to be set in stone.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that UK firms exported a collective total of £842.6bn of goods and services in 2023. This equates to £2.3bn for every day of the year.

With CDS now expected to process the paperwork for all of this trade, HMRC said that it “will continue to provide help and support to businesses moving to CDS in coming months and continue to work closely with the border industry throughout this process”.

The department’s director of border change delivery Sarah Hartley added: “The open migration for exports from CHIEF to CDS marks a key milestone for HMRC, and we would like to thank all our partners who were involved in making this achievement happen. We are encouraging businesses to move over as soon as they can so the transition to CDS is as smooth as possible for everyone.”

The closure of CHIEF and the ubiquitous adoption of CDS will mark the end of a challenging and complex 11-year process for HMRC.

The result of the Brexit referendum, which took place three years into delivery of the customs-replacement project, meant that the new system suddenly 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 process an annual total of about 250 million import and export submissions.

Sam Trendall

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