Customs Procedures

Although a declaration to free circulation with payment of duties and VAT may be the norm it is only one of a number of customs processes or procedures that can apply. If there is no prior import declaration the safety and security declaration acts by default as a declaration to temporary storage. In this event, the goods cannot move through the port and must be brought to and deposited with Revenue /HMRC until clearance.

There may be a declaration to another customs procedure. Customs procedures may be available to postpone or manage payment of customs duties excise duties and VAT. The various facilitations commonly used are dealt with separately on this site. They include

  • customs warehousing
  • inward processing
  • temporary admission

In the case of excise goods, there is a provision for suspension which may ease cash flow requirements

There are several other customs processes, all of which are discussed elsewhere which can be used to manage and postpone duty.

There may be multiple customs declarations in respect of the same goods. For example, goods may be declared to go into customs warehousing either in the port or at an authorised warehouse inland. A further process of declaring them to free circulation would usually take place at a later stage, at which later point, duty is paid or accounted for, and they are removed from the controls of a customs warehouse into free circulation.

Goods may remain under transit arrangements until they reach an inland customs office of import, for example, the local office of the importer. This is internal transit. External transit is the process used for goods crossing the Great Britain land bridge which leaves the EU and re-enter it. The common feature of transit, as well as other suspensive customs procedures, where   the duties and VAT have not yet been accounted for or paid, is that the goods remain under Revenue / HMRC control. There is usually an underlying guarantee or authorisation on the part of the party who has physical control of the goods.

Declarations and Simplifications

In order to simplify the completion of formalities procedures as far as possible, the customs authorities may grant permission for declarations to omit certain particulars or for some of the documents not to be furnished. In some cases,  a commercial or administrative document may substitute for a declaration or an initial declaration. Permission to use these procedures must be given on for the formal application and the holder of the authorisation must meet certain requirements.

Traders and carriers who are such as AEOs and others may enjoy waivers or may qualify for reductions in the levels required or other waivers of conditions. A transport company or freight forwarder  may enjoy significant simplifications. Depending on the nature of the simplification they may be able to employ them for the benefit of their clients.

Authorisations granting the status of the authorised economic operator and other authorisations for customs simplification issued by the UK authorities will no longer be valid in the EU customs territory. Equally, EU authorisations may not be recognised in the UK.


In the case of goods entered for a procedure by means of an entry in the declarant’s records, the customs authority may waive the requirement that the declarant presents the goods to customs.

The simplified declaration, commercial or administrative document or entry in the records must contain at least the particulars necessary for identification of the goods. Supplementary declarations and simplified declarations are permitted and deemed a single indivisible document.

Formal simplification procedures are available under the EU customs rules and require compliance with EU wide criteria and standards. The requirements for authorised economic operators in particular whether for customs or safety and security or both are onerous and rigorous.

For the most part, the simplifications do not obviate the requirements for the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine to undertake checks on animal plant and food products. The bulk of these checks are mandatory and prescribed by European Union law.

Release to Free Circulation

It is a basic principle that non-EU goods become “Community” goods upon release for free circulation. They acquire the status of EU/community goods. They are not necessarily of EU community origin for other purposes.

The acceptance of a customs declaration to free circulation gives rise to a customs debt. The goods covered by the declaration must not be released until the customs debt has been secured or paid.

Customs authorities may take the necessary measures to remedy failures on the part of the importer, such as where the goods are subject to prohibitions or restrictions. This may include confiscation forfeiture and sale. Their powers may be used where the required documents have not been produced or the requisite payment or security has not been provided.

Goods in Free Circulation

It is a basic principle that goods in free circulation may move automatically throughout the EU without further customs controls. The EU treaty provides that goods coming from a third country shall be considered to be in free circulation if the import formalities have been complied with and any customs duty or charges having an equivalent effect which are payable have been levied, and they have not subject to a total or partial drawback of such duties or charges.

Goods released into free circulation may lose their status as community goods where
• the declaration is invalidated after release
• the import duties are repaid or remitted under the inward processing, in respect of defective goods and
• in other situations where refunds are permissible.

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