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HMRC announced phased launch to CDS starting in August 2018

Matteo Natalucci Published 01 February 2018

Customs Declaration Service will be phased in between August and early 2019, with CHIEF continuing to run for a time to aid the transition to CDS


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has announced its intention to begin a phased launch of the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) in August 2018. 

CDS will replace the existing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system, with all declarations taking place on CDS from early 2019.

CDS is one of 15 major programmes in HMRC’s wider transformation portfolio, which HMRC started before the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, and before the government committed to seeking a new customs arrangement from March 2019.

CHIEF currently processes declarations to facilitate the international movement of goods between the UK and non-EU countries. It allows importers, exporters and freight forwarders to complete customs information electronically, and automatically checks for entry errors.

The system is responsible for processing declarations for goods entering and leaving the UK or EU through ports and airports and calculating the correct amount of duty and taxes.

The decision to replace CHIEF with CDS was made before the EU referendum, however CDS will be scaled to handle any potential increases in the volume of declarations that may result from the UK’s exit from the EU.

CHIEF will continue to run for a time to aid the transition to CDS.

HMRC is currently building and testing CDS with industry, software providers and Community System Providers (CSPs). CSPs operate computerised inventory systems that control the physical movement of import and export freight at UK ports and airports.

CDS will be phased in between August and early 2019, with CHIEF continuing to run during this time to aid the transition. Importers, exporters or their agents will be informed by their software provider when they need to provide the additional information in order to start making declarations on CDS.

In a treasury committee evidence session with HMRC held last September, which discussed CDS delivery timetable and contingency plan, HMRC’s Permanent Secretary Jon Thompson said, “There is an unprecedented level of technological change in HMRC. We are attempting to digitise the entire tax system at the moment and (Brexit customs changes) would be added on.”

“The programme continues to meet critical milestones for IT development, and we have built an environment that mirrors the live environment to support development activity ... CDS has completed 43% of features and requirements. However not all features are the same size so we have actually completed more than 50% of the total development effort. Completed means built, tested and signed-off.”

In an interview  with Government Computing, HMRC’s chief digital and information officer (CDIO) Jacky Wright painted an optimistic picture of HMRC’s prospects of delivering the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) against the backdrop of the developing Brexit landscape.

Looking specifically at CHIEF, Wright suggested that with any old system, there is an element of life support and then there’s an element of “what do we need to do for the future?”.

CHIEF is nearly 25 years old and can’t be easily adapted to new requirements, but its life has been extended with a further £7.3m of funding which will facilitate parallel running with CDS

Wright said, “And when you think about what you need to do for the future, it’s very hard to transform a 25 year old system. Very hard, especially when 25 years ago, we were talking about relational in a different way than we are today. So you have to think about that. And the challenge would be, “I want to be quick and innovative as it relates to the customs stuff. How do I do that and interact it with the legacy system?’ That would be the bigger challenge, right? You don’t want an old way of working at the front end.

“You want a new way of working. So can that new way of working interact very quickly to a legacy, kind of putting lipstick on a pig? The question would be, can you do that? That’s because you’re not going to re-architect. You don’t have time to re-architect” Wright said.

CDS will offer several new and existing services, for example, traders will be able to view previous import and export data on pre-defined reports, check the tariff, apply for new authorisations and simplifications, and check their duty deferment statement. Also, it will include self-service tools, guides and checklists.  

HMRC anticipated users will need to sign into CDS on GOV.UK through a Government Gateway account.

In order to align with the World Customs Organisation Kyoto Convention, additional information will be required for declarations, such as:

  • an audit trail of previous document IDs
  • additional party types, such as the buyer and seller
  • possible additional commercial references or tracking numbers
  • levelling – change between ‘Header’ and ‘Item’ for some data items

Also, to align UK customs data with international standards, there will be changes to:

  • location of goods identification (based on UNLOCODE)
  • the warehouse type code list
  • item tax lines, including method of payment codes
  • unit of quantity codes (ISO)
  • the way customs procedures are quoted
  • the number of items on a declaration – CDS will allow a maximum of 999 items on a customs declaration instead of the current 99 items on CHIEF

An updated tariff manual is expected to be available in April 2018.

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