International Trade Law Advice Services

Customs Controls

Prior to the UK leaving the European Union, goods could travel freely between the UK and the European Union (EU) without any duties or taxes or the need for customs declarations. From 1st January 2021, the UK is no longer a member of the EU’s single market or customs union, and both UK and EU businesses are now required to make customs declarations (import and export).

For many businesses, this is the first time that they have been required to operate customs processes. Getting expert UK customs advice is therefore strongly recommended to avoid any issues with importing goods into the UK, such as delays or fines.

Andrew Skinner is a seasoned international trade lawyer (Solicitor) with extensive experience in advising on UK customs controls, EU customs controls and other customs regimes around the world.

Andrew has exceptional experience, having worked as an in-house lawyer for a leading global technology company, as well as in private practice. He is also a professionally qualified engineer and registered with the UK’s Engineering Council as a Chartered Engineer (CEng).

Previous experience includes advising £100million+ turnover businesses and major international defence contractors, supporting other legal professionals dealing with international trade issues and working with customs authorities worldwide.

Whether you need advice on importing goods into the UK, want a second opinion on customs controls compliance or need urgent help to unfreeze goods that are stuck due to a customs control problem, Andrew can provide fast, effective legal guidance.

For a free initial 15-minute consultation to find out how Andrew can help you, please call +44 (0) 1423 734019 or make an enquiry. All enquiries will be responded to promptly.

Our customs advice services

We support commercial clients with customs advice on issues including:

  • Rules of country of origin and rules of preferential origin
  • Preferential Trade Agreements, including the UK – EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (Brexit Agreement)
  • Valuation of goods for purposes of customs import entry declarations
  • Identifying which tariff code apply to a particular item
  • Special customs procedures which allow reduced or no duty when stored, repaired, processed or temporarily used
  • Import licencing, including licence conditions, record keeping and customs audits
  • Advising on customs control disputes with relevant authorities
  • Advising on the release of goods frozen due to customs control issues
  • Support for customs control investigations and prosecutions
  • Contractual clauses relating to customs controls, as well as other documentation such as powers of attorney, letters of representation etc.,

This is only a brief overview of the issues related to importing goods that we are able to assist with, so please contact us to discuss how we can assist your business.

Our clients

Andrew advises clients on a range of trade compliance issues in various sectors, including electronics, aerospace & defence, cosmetics, IT, automotive, nuclear engineering and industrial engineering. He delivers timely, pragmatic advice in a way that recognises the commercial demands faced by clients.

Typical clients range from business owners who may be unfamiliar with customs controls and international trade barriers to compliance teams at major international businesses who require a second opinion or specific expertise on more niche matters outside of their experience.

Our experience

Over the years, Andrew has helped clients to resolve a number of customs control challenges, including:

  • Advising a client on a complex retaliatory tariff issue, whereby the client’s goods incurred a significant increase in UK import duty. The client was advised of various options which resulted in a favourable outcome for the client.
  • Advising clients on ‘The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement’, as a result of the UK leaving the European Union on 31st December 2020, (Brexit), and in particular the rules of preferential origin which determine whether or not goods qualify for zero tariff when being imported from the EU, or exported to the EU.
  • Advising a client on Inward Processing (IP) procedures which allow the processing of goods under customs control, thereby incurring no import duties or taxes.
  • Advising a client on liability issues relating to a Power of Attorney (PoA). The PoA was amended, thereby limiting the scope of the client’s authorisation and reducing their exposure to any potential regulatory action.

Common questions about customs controls

What is the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement?

On 24th December 2020, the UK and EU concluded a trade agreement called the ‘EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement’, which sets out preferential arrangements in a number of areas, including trade in goods and services.

This agreement came into force on 1st January 2021 and specifies the rules of preferential trade between the EU and UK. Under the agreement, there are no import tariffs or other customs duties or quotas on imports of EU-origin goods into the UK, or of UK-origin goods into the EU.

Goods that do not qualify as UK-origin or EU-origin now pay import tariffs and other customs duties at the applicable rate.

What are import tariffs?

Tariffs are customs duties on goods crossing from one customs territory to another and are usually imposed at the border on imports. Tariffs help to protect domestic producers by increasing the domestic price of imported goods.

As an EU member state, the UK has never had to submit its own tariff schedule. Instead, EU member states share a common schedule, submitted by the EU, which is binding on all EU member states.

What import tariffs does the UK have?

From 1st January 2021, the UK, as a freestanding World Trade Organisation (WTO) member, has adopted its own tariff schedule. The Taxation (Cross-border) Trade Act 2018 empowers the UK government to establish its own tariffs for trade in goods.

What free trade agreements does the UK have?

In previous years, the EU has negotiated several Free Trade Agreements with other countries, which allows member states to benefit from preferential tariffs on trade with those countries.

From 1st January 2021, the UK can no longer benefit from any EU Free Trade Agreement with other countries. However, since leaving the EU, the UK has negotiated its own Free Trade Agreements with various countries, including Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland etc., as well as the ‘EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement’ with the European Union.

Who is responsible for dealing with UK customs when importing goods?

When importing goods into the UK, the importer would generally appoint a customs agent to make the customs declaration on its behalf. In this case, the customs agent acts as the importer’s direct representative, and on the importers’ customs clearance instructions. As such, the importer is solely liable for any customs debt, unless the agent makes a deliberate or unreasonable error having received clear instructions, in which case the agent may become jointly and severally liable.

What do you need to include in a customs declaration?

The customs declaration requires various information, including the consignor and consignee (the sender and recipient of the goods) and the consignee's Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number.

Other information includes the 10-digit commodity code (tariff code) for the goods covered by the declaration, as this will determine the applicable level (percentage) of duty payable to HMRC.

The customs procedure code (CPC) is a seven-digit code that identifies the customs (and/or excise regimes) that goods are being entered into or removed from. The value of goods is used in order to determine the amount of duty and VAT payable to customs, as well as for trade statistics.

How are UK import tariffs calculated?

There are six ways to work out the value of imported goods, the most common being the transactional value. A full description of the goods is also required, along with information on packaging, the name of the declarant and details of the country of origin in the form of a two-letter code.

How does the country of origin affect UK customs tariffs?

There is a distinction between two types of origins, notably preferential origin and non-preferential origin.

Preferential rules of origin determine whether or not goods qualify as originating from certain countries, for which special arrangements and agreements apply. Where all the requirements are met, goods with preferential origin are eligible to be imported with lower duty rates or at zero rate, depending on the preferential tariff treatment provided for. The UK and EU have agreed on a preferential trade deal known as the ‘Trade and Co-operation Agreement’. The UK has also agreed preferential trade agreements with a number of other countries.

Where non-preferential origin rules apply, there are two basic rules to determine the origin of goods. The first rule relates to goods which are wholly obtained products, involving materials and labour from only one country (in practice, this concept is used for natural state products such as crops and raw materials). The second rule is used where two or more countries are involved in the production of goods, and the concept of last, substantial transformation determines the origin of the goods i.e., the country where the last substantial processing operation took place. A Certificate of Origin is a document that certifies the origin of goods being exported from one country to another and is normally issued by a local Chamber of Commerce.

How can you bring controlled goods through UK customs?

Controlled goods require export licences under UK law (see our export controls service page). A mandatory authorisation and notification process is required for shipments of such goods from the UK to any third country, including the EU. Certain other goods may require an import licence.

What are the penalties for failing to pay UK customs tariffs?

HMRC may issue civil penalties for non-compliance with customs law, as well as recovering any tax and duty owed. Alternatively, HMRC may issue a civil evasion penalty or seek a criminal prosecution where they believe that there has been a dishonest evasion of tax and duty, as well as recovering any outstanding tax and duty.

Have a question about customs controls that we haven’t answered?

Please get in touch, and we will be happy to advise you.

Get fast, expert advice on customs controls

For a free initial 15-minute consultation to find out how Andrew can help you, please call +44 (0) 1423 734019 or make an enquiry. All enquiries will be responded to promptly.