Brexit – get someone to deal with customs for you

It seems fairly likely that we are heading for a no-deal exit from the EU, 1 January 2021. Many smaller businesses that presently import or export goods from and to the EU will need to deal with a complex raft of customs and VAT issues if they continue trade with the EU after this date.

The GOV.UK website has a whole section that promotes the idea that you get someone to deal with customs for you. They have even published a lift of firms, 600 of them, that can act as freight forwarders, customs agents or brokers or fast parcel operators.

Will all the present COVID related issues, it is likely that many businesses will not relish a further list of red-tape chores in order to continue cross-border trade with the EU. In which case, hiring someone to do this for you may be appealing.

A summary of the information posted by government on this topic follows:

Freight forwarders

Freight forwarders move goods around the world for importers. A freight forwarder will arrange clearing your goods through customs. They will have the right software to communicate with HMRC’s systems. You can find out how to use a freight forwarder on the British International Freight Association and Institute of Export websites.

Customs agent or broker

Customs agents and brokers make sure your goods clear through customs. You can hire a customs agent or broker to act as a:

  • direct representative
  • indirect representative

Fast parcel operators

Fast parcel operators transport documents, parcels and freight across the world in a specific time frame. They can deal with customs for you, as part of their delivery. They cannot act on your behalf without written instructions from you. The instruction must show whether they’re acting for you directly or indirectly. HMRC will only ask for evidence of the authorisation if we need it.

Get someone to act directly

You can hire a person or business to act in your name. You’ll be liable for:

  • keeping records
  • the accuracy of any information provided on your customs declarations
  • any Customs Duty or VAT due

If you give clear instructions and they make a mistake, they may become jointly and severally liable. You cannot ask someone to act directly if they’re submitting your declarations using:

  • simplified customs procedures
  • entry in the declarant’s records

When acting directly, even if they have authorisation, they can only submit those types of declarations if you have authorisation.

Get someone to act indirectly

You can get someone to act for you in their own name, this means they’re:

  • equally responsible for making sure the information is accurate
  • jointly and severally liable for any duty or VAT

If they have authorisation, you can get an indirect agent to make declarations using:

  • simplified customs procedures
  • entry in the declarant’s records

You cannot ask someone to act indirectly if you’re declaring goods for:

  • inward processing
  • outward processing
  • temporary admission
  • end-use relief
  • private customs warehousing
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