Last reviewed 18 January 2021

A deal has been done, so that there can be trade with no tariffs or quotas. In this article John Davison advises business owners how to adapt to the new rules.

However, this will not be the final position as there will be further negotiations, compromises and late-night negotiations on many topics. For example, the current deal does little for the service industry and this is a topic that will be subject to further discussions in the future.

Furthermore, whilst agreement has been reached there will be differing interpretations and mistakes made. For example, a dozen or so UK citizens that were resident in Spain were refused entry into Spain when returning after a visit to the UK. This was despite having the necessary resident permits and coronavirus test results. This was an error on the part of the Spanish authorities, but is an example of mistakes that can happen.

One of the difficulties that faces businesses is that many government web pages are being re-written and/or removed following the late agreement of the deal. Furthermore, some web pages contain incorrect information (such as saying that you may need to pay duty on imports of goods from the EU to the UK). This can make it difficult to find the necessary information.

There are differences between the treatment of goods movements into Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Where GB is referred to, this includes England, Scotland and Wales. UK includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Moving goods to the EU from GB

As the UK is no longer in the single market it is necessary to complete a number of forms before moving goods to GB or the UK. Similarly, goods coming to GB will require similar forms. When goods move through Kent to go to the EU it will be necessary for all truck drivers carrying out international transportation tasks to get a Kent Access Permit (KAP). This permit is required by both UK and non-UK drivers and whether the truck is loaded or not that are crossing the border via Dover or Eurotunnel. It is not required for domestic transport to, from, or within Kent nor for vehicles under 7.5 tonnes nor for departures from other ports. The permit is valid for 24 hours only. It is necessary to obtain a KAP from https://www.gov.uk/check-hgv-border.

To obtain the KAP it will be necessary to provide the date and time of arrival of the HGV in Kent, the registration number of the vehicle and the necessary customs documents. These customs documents will also be necessary for other transit movements even where a KAP is not required (that is in vehicles weighing less than 7.5 tonnes, or leaving via different ports).

The necessary customs documents are an EU import document with a bar code. This can be an import declaration or a Transit Accompanying Document (TAD); a Movement Reference Number for the EU customs import declaration will need to be obtained. Also, an ATA or TIR carnet will need to be provided. Before crossing the border, it may also be necessary to make an entry summary declaration (or safety and security declarations) into the Import Control System (ICS) of the EU country that is being entered and a local reference number from the shipper supplying the goods if travelling to a customs office of departure before taking the goods to the EU.

Whilst most customs procedures will be paperless the Transit Accompanying Document (TAD) is required to accompany goods and be presented at all transit offices and at the destination. The TAD carries the Movement Reference Number (MRN) in both number and QR code form and the latter allows faster processing by barcode reader at transit offices.

A Goods Movement Reference can be obtained at https://tinyurl.com/BrdealGMR.

Additional documentation will be required if transporting live animals, fish and animal products, plants or other speciality, restricted or controlled goods. Further information regarding this paperwork can be found at https://www.gov.uk/export-goods.

Where the vehicle is less than 7.5 tonnes or is of any weight and going to the EU but not through Dover or Eurotunnel there is a service that will check that you have the necessary documents to cross the border. This is at https://www.gov.uk/check-hgv-border/check-an-hgv-is-ready-to-cross-the-border. Goods exported to the EU whether through the KAP scheme, in light trucks or vans or through other ports, or by air all require the customs documentation mentioned above. Furthermore, where a driver is travelling to the EU it will be necessary to obtain a negative coronavirus test result before travel.

Further information regarding exports to the EU can be found at https://tinyurl.com/Brdealexp.

Importing goods into GB from the EU

There will be similar requirements for goods being moved into the UK; licences and import certificates may be required that were not necessary before the end of the transition period. Further information regarding imports into the UK from the EU can be found at https://tinyurl.com/Brdealimp.

When importing goods into the UK from the EU, it is often necessary to make a full or standard customs declaration. This requires the importer to ensure:

  • the exporter has an EU EORI number

  • the exporter has the relevant export or specialist goods licences or certificates

  • the exporter has completed the export declaration in their country of export

  • the importer has a UK EORI number

  • the importer pays any duty necessary (it is unlikely that customs duty will be due unless the goods have originated from outside the EU, but excise duty will be due)

  • import VAT is accounted for under the postponed accounting system if the importer is VAT registered.

Simplified customs declarations can be made through the CHIEF system or the new Customs Declaration System using the EORI number for many goods, in particular ones not requiring certificates or licences.

A delayed declaration can be made for goods that were:

  • in free circulation in the EU

  • imported into and in free circulation in Great Britain

  • between 1 January and 30 December 2021

  • are not controlled goods.

These can be declared in a business’s own records without getting authorisation in advance. It is necessary to send HMRC full information within 175 days on a supplementary declaration. Controlled goods includes excise goods, controlled drugs, chemicals, endangered species, weapons, goods subject to sanctions, anti-dumping or countervailing duties and rough diamonds. A full list is provided at https://tinyurl.com/Brdealcnt.

EORI number

As can be seen from the import and export rules detailed above an EORI is vital to enable the business to interact with the customs authorities. Where a business does not have an EORI number it will meet with delays and extra costs on imports and exports. An EORI is required for the movement of goods to or from Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland) or the Isle of Man and other countries. The EORI number for UK businesses will start with a GB.

An EORI is required for the movement of goods between Great Britain and the EU. It is not required where the supply made is services nor where goods are moved between Northern Ireland and Ireland. An EU EORI will be needed if the business is making declarations in the EU.

An EORI that starts with XI will be required to move goods between Northern Ireland and non-EU countries (including the UK) or to make a customs declaration or get a customs decision in Northern Ireland. To get an EORI that starts with XI it is necessary to already have an EORI that starts with a GB.

If goods are being moved from GB to the Channel Islands an EORI starting with GB is required. Where goods are moved from the Channel Islands to GB an EORI is not necessary unless the business needs to give information to HMRC.

To get an EORI an application needs to be made through the Government Gateway and the Government Gateway user ID and password must be used. The business also needs to supply its VAT number and date of VAT registration, their National Insurance number if an individual or sole trader, the Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR), their business start date and Standard Industrial Classification code (SIC).

VAT

Import VAT (including imports from the EU) can be accounted for on a business’s VAT return rather than paying it at the point of import and having to reclaim the VAT later. This allows the import VAT to be paid for on the VAT return and claimed back on the same return. The normal VAT input tax rules apply to what amount of VAT can be claimed back on the VAT return.

VAT can be accounted for in this way if the import is into Great Britain from anywhere outside the UK. An import into Northern Ireland can account for VAT on the VAT return for imports from outside the UK and the EU. There is no change of treatment to the method of accounting for VAT for the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the EU.

This method of accounting for import VAT can be used where the goods are imported for use in the business and the VAT registration number of the business was included on the customs declaration. It can also be used where goods in a special customs procedure (such as customs warehousing, inward processing, outward processing or other duty suspension regimes) are moved into free circulation.

VAT and overseas good sold direct to UK customers

Goods with a value of £135 or less that are outside the UK when supplied and sold directly to customers in GB will have UK VAT charged at the point of sale. It will be necessary for the supplier to register for VAT in the UK and account for VAT.

Where the goods are from the UK or the EU and sold direct to customers in Northern Ireland import VAT will be charged.

The £135 limit applies to the total value of the consignment not the separate value of the individual items in a consignment. Also, there are separate rules for excise goods and for non-commercial goods such as gifts.

Where the consignment is valued at more than £135 the goods will be liable to import VAT and Duty.

The low value relief for consignment valued at £15 has been removed in Great Britain for goods imported from outside the UK and in Northern Ireland for goods imported from outside the UK and the EU.

Goods sold by an EU business to a business in the UK are accounted for differently. Goods supplied to a customer in GB will be accounted for under the reverse charge procedure and in Northern Ireland using Postponed Accounting. The UK business will need to provide their UK VAT number to the EU business to show that they are in business.

Where goods are sold through an online market place (websites and mobile phone apps) the online market place will be required to account for VAT on the supply of goods to a UK customer. In addition, a GB online market place will be required to account for VAT on sales to customers in Northern Ireland. The seller is not liable to account for the VAT on supplies through the online market place.

The distance selling rules remain applicable when a business supplies and delivers goods from Northern Ireland or an EU country, to a customer in another EU country or Northern Ireland, who is not registered for VAT. This requires the supplier to register for VAT in the country where the customer is established once the value of supplies into that country exceed and annual threshold of £70,000 (some EU countries have a lower threshold). If goods subject to excise duty are sold the threshold is nil and VAT registration is required for all sales.

Transit movements starting or ending in Northern Ireland

A separate version of the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS) has been created for Northern Ireland movements using common or union transit. This is not to be used for GB transit movements. For Northern Ireland arrivals and departures, it will be necessary to make declarations by software only using e-mail or XML.

If a business is starting a movement from a point of departure in Northern Ireland, a request to start a transit movement can be obtained by emailing Border Force at: BFPortteam@homeoffice.gov.uk. To obtain this it will be necessary to provide:

  • name

  • EORI number

  • local reference number (LRN) and either the Movement Reference Number (MRN) or Export Reference Number (ERN)

  • method of transport

  • port of departure

  • location of the goods until the transit movement starts

  • the date and time of expected departure.

Where a movement ends in Northern Ireland the Border Force needs to be contacted (e-mail given above) requesting an end to the transit movement. Details to be included are:

  • name

  • movement Reference Number (MRN)

  • method of transport

  • port of arrival

  • location of the goods on arrival

  • the date and time of expected arrival.

In addition, a Transit Accompanying Document (TAD) or C88, A conformation of entry into another customs procedure (such as an entry into CDS or CHIEF, and import declaration, T2L documents etc.

Most goods qualify for unfettered access when moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK. Goods that qualify for unfettered access include:

  • goods in free circulation in Northern Ireland (that is not under any customs procedure)

  • goods processed in northern Ireland as long as all components were in free circulation in the UK.

Goods that start their journey in the EU do not qualify for unfettered access if moved through Northern Ireland into Great Britain. These goods need to comply with customs export procedures from their point of original export and import documents for Great Britain need to be completed.

Where qualifying goods are moved from Northern Ireland to GB through Ireland the process for importing goods into the UK from the EU needs to be followed unless a transit procedure is used.

More information for moving goods from and to Northern Ireland is available at https://tinyurl.com/BrdealNI.

Proof of origin

It will often be necessary to provide proof of origin of goods that cross borders. Without such proof the goods may be subject to delays, charges and duties. Whilst there are no tariffs on goods moving between the UK and the EU this is on the assumption that the goods are in free circulation. That means that all necessary duties and tariffs have been paid on the goods. If the goods originate in the EU or the UK there are no tariffs. Hence, providing proof of origin is important to substantiate that the goods originate in the UK or the EU. Where there are goods that originate outside the EU or UK (or where parts from outside the EU or UK are incorporated into other goods) it is important to show that any duties due have been paid.

Often commercial documentation is sufficient to evidence proof of origin. This can be on the invoice, packing notes, delivery notes or on separate continuation paper. The type of proof that needs to be provided will depend upon the goods and where they are being exported from or to. The necessary information can be found in the preference agreements or the Generalised System of Preferences. The type of proof can b e a EUR1 or EUR-MED movement certificate, an origin declaration, or a Generalised Scheme of Preferences form A.

Further information

Most businesses that import or export use an agent or intermediary. Dealing with customs issues can be complex and it is often advisable to use a reputable agent or intermediary to assist the business.

A Brexit checklist can be found at https://www.gov.uk/transition. This provides links to a variety of web pages that can provide targeted information to the business.

Webinars on help and support can be found at https://tinyurl.com/Brdealweb.

Legislation that deals with Customs, Excise and VAT issues from 1 January can be found at https://tinyurl.com/Brdeallegn.