Customs controls from 1 January 2022

There are special procedures for importing goods into the UK. Following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, the process for importing goods from the EU effectively mirrors the process for all other international destinations.

A number of easements to help ensure a smooth transition for goods coming from the EU after Brexit, ended on 31 December 2021. This means that since 1 January 2022, businesses are no longer able to delay making import customs declarations under the Staged Customs Controls rules that applied during 2021.

The changes that came into force on 1 January 2022 include:

  • A requirement for full customs import declarations for all goods at the time businesses or their courier/freight forwarder bring them into Great Britain, except if they are non-controlled goods imported from Ireland to Great Britain
  • customs controls at all ports and other border locations
  • requirement for a suppliers’ declaration proving the origin of goods (either UK or EU) if they are using the zero tariffs agreed in the UK’s trade deal with the EU
  • commodity codes, which are used to classify goods for customs declarations, are changing

There are different rules in place for the movement of goods into, out of or through Northern Ireland.

Affected businesses should ensure that they consider as a matter of urgency how they are going to submit customs declarations and pay any duties that are due. Businesses can appoint an intermediary, such as a customs agent, to deal with their declarations or can submit them directly although this can be complex for businesses unused to the process.

There is a ‘Simplified Declarations’ authorisation from HMRC that allows some goods to be released directly to a specified customs procedure without having to provide a full customs declaration at the point of release. However, this needs specific authorisation from HMRC and there are also other requirements that must be met.

New timetable for import controls

There are special procedures for importing goods into the UK. Following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, the process for importing goods from the EU effectively mirrors the process for all other international destinations.

On 14 September 2021, a revised timetable for the introduction of full import controls was published by government. 

A number of easements had been put in place to help ensure a smooth transition for goods coming from the EU. This included a delay in the requirement for full customs declarations and controls until 1 January 2022. The timetable for this change remains as previously set out. However, safety and security declarations will now not be required until 1 July 2022.

Under the revised timetable:

  • The requirements for pre-notification of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) goods, which were due to be introduced on 1 October 2021, will now be introduced on 1 January 2022.
  • The new requirements for Export Health Certificates, which were due to be introduced on 1 October 2021, will now be introduced on 1 July 2022.
  • Phytosanitary Certificates and physical checks on SPS goods at Border Control Posts, due to be introduced on 1 January 2022, will now be introduced on 1 July 2022.
  • Safety and Security declarations on imports will be required as of 1 July 2022 as opposed to 1 January 2022. Full customs declarations and controls will be introduced on 1 January 2022 as previously announced.

It is hoped that this revised timetable will give businesses, especially those in the agri-food sector, more time to adjust for issues caused by Brexit and the global pandemic. 

VAT and overseas goods sold to customers in the UK

Following the end of the Brexit transition period, new rules on tax and duty now apply on goods sent to the UK from overseas. These changes are meant to ensure that goods from EU and non-EU countries are treated in the same way and that UK businesses are not disadvantaged by competition from VAT free imports. 

For goods sold directly to customers in the UK from overseas with a value of £135 or less (which aligns with the threshold for customs duty liability) the point at which VAT is collected has moved from the point of importation to the point of sale. 

Online marketplaces that are involved in facilitating the sale, are responsible for collecting and accounting for the VAT. Business to business sales not exceeding £135 in value will also be subject to the new rules but VAT can be accounted for by way of the reverse charge.

In addition, the low value consignment relief (LVCR), which was an import VAT exemption for goods valued at £15 or less, has been removed in:

  • Great Britain for goods imported from outside the UK
  • Northern Ireland for goods ordered remotely that are imported from outside the UK and EU

Normal VAT and customs rules on consignments valued at more than £135 will apply on the importation of goods into Great Britain from outside the UK or into Northern Ireland from outside the UK and EU.

There are different rules on the sale of goods into Northern Ireland from the EU and on the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the EU.

Changes to duty free shopping

The government has published the new rules for duty free and tax free shopping that will come into effect from 1 January 2021. The changes are wide ranging.

For anyone who smokes or drinks there will be no duty charged on alcohol or tobacco products from January 2021. This will apply irrespective of whether you are travelling to an EU or non-EU country. The new rules will apply to British ports, airports, international rail stations and sales on ships, trains and planes. 

There will also be new increased personal limits on what you can bring home. This means that passengers coming to Britain will be able to bring back, for example, three crates of beer, two cases of still wine and one case of sparkling wine or 4 litres of spirits to GB without paying UK duties.

The government has also announced the ending of all tax free sales from January 2021. This will apply to relevant sales of tax-free transactions in airports of goods in sectors such as: electronics, fashion and beauty products and will apply to passengers travelling to non-EU countries.

It has also been announced that the VAT Retail Export Scheme is to be scrapped from 1 January 2021. This means that VAT refunds for overseas visitors in British shops will be removed. The only exception will be when an item is shipped directly from the seller to the home address of the foreign customer.

The changes will apply in England, Wales and Scotland. The rules in Northern Ireland are still under discussion.

Duty free limits if you are travelling abroad

Here is a reminder of your duty and tax free allowances if travelling abroad this Christmas.

Travelling to an EU country

Where tobacco or alcohol is brought in from another EU country, no duties or tax will be payable as long as you can demonstrate that the goods are for your own use and that you paid the relevant taxes and duties on the purchase.

However, HMRC provide the following guidelines as to an acceptable maximum for personal use. If you exceed these limits, you are more likely to be subject to further questioning.

  • 800 cigarettes
  • 200 cigars
  • 400 cigarillos
  • 1kg of tobacco
  • 110 litres of beer
  • 90 litres of wine
  • 10 litres of spirits
  • 20 litres of fortified wine (for example port or sherry)

If you are travelling outside the EU you are allowed to bring the following back to the UK for your own use without any UK tax or duty liabilities.

  • 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco
  • 4 litres of still table wine
  • 16 litres of beer
  • 1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs over 22 per cent volume; or 2 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry), sparkling wine or other alcoholic beverages of less than 22 per cent volume.
  • £390 limit for of all other goods including perfume and souvenirs. If you are lucky enough to be arriving by private plane or boat for pleasure purposes, you can bring in goods up to the value of £270 tax free.

It remains to be seen if any changes will be made to the EU limits after the Brexit transition period ends.