Last reviewed 5 February 2019

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has announced simplified procedures for businesses importing from the EU, as part of its no-deal Brexit preparations in the event of the UK leaving without a withdrawal agreement on 29 March. Pat Sweet reports.

The tax authority has written to 145,000 VAT-registered businesses trading with the EU about the Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP) for customs. These will initially be in place for a period of one year, to give businesses time to prepare to use the full customs processes that already apply to imports from non-EU countries.

Once businesses are registered for TSP, they will be able to transport goods from the EU into the UK without having to make a full customs declaration at the border and will be able to postpone paying any import duties.

The Treasury says it will review the policy three to six months after it is introduced on 29 March 2019 to see how it is working. It will consult with businesses and give them at least a 12-month notice period before withdrawing the easements in TSP and applying the usual customs processes to imports from the EU, which the Treasury says will give them sufficient time to prepare.

Mel Stride, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority. This has not changed.

“However, a responsible government must plan for every eventuality, including a no deal scenario. Businesses and citizens should ensure they are similarly prepared for leaving the EU.”

The new procedures reduce the amount of information importers need to give in an import declaration when the goods are crossing the border. They allow importers to defer giving a full declaration until after the goods have crossed the border, while they are not required to pay any duty until the month after import.

If tariffs apply to the goods that they import, and they want to use transitional simplified procedures, they will need to defer paying any import duties by setting up a direct debit.

HMRC is also reminding businesses to get an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number if they do not already have one.

This number is crucial to be able to trade after Brexit in the event of no deal. Obtaining an EORI number can be done online and takes 10 minutes. Businesses can register for TSP if they have an EORI number, are established in the UK, and are importing goods from the EU into the UK.

Registration for TSP opens on 7 February.

Brad Ashton, international trade partner at RSM said: “Today’s announcement is a sign of a dawning realisation that changes are required to ease the flow of inbound goods in a no-deal scenario.

“These measures are designed to mitigate the impact of burdensome customs processes for goods coming from the EU — particularly for those businesses that haven’t previously had to deal with customs procedures.

“However, while this is being presented as a simplification, applying to use the process — and having the facilities such as a duty deferment arrangement in place — will nevertheless take some time to set up, especially as there are potentially 145,000 companies or more who may be affected.”

Ronan Quigley, Executive Director responsible for Trade at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), welcomed the introduction of the TSP arrangements as a means of avoiding prolonged checks at the border and gridlock on the motorways in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but warned that businesses needed to be alert to the new requirements.

“These letters to business are important communications and government must do everything it can to let firms know what they’ll need in terms of new documentation to trade with the EU.

“Many businesses are still in the dark about the benefits of gaining an EORI number in order to maintain continuity of trade if there is no deal — these letters help to highlight their importance and the need for traders to take action,” he said.

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