Understanding the Customs Declaration Service (CDS): What UK businesses need to know

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Trade Finance Global / Customs | TFG 2024 Guide / Understanding the Customs Declaration Service (CDS): What UK businesses need to know

Deadline now extended from 30 March 2024 to 4 June 2024.

The new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) represents an important shift in how UK exporters handle customs declarations, transitioning from the older Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system to a more modern, comprehensive platform.

This change is designed to accommodate the evolving demands of international trade and customs requirements, offering a more data-driven, efficient approach to customs processing. Below is a guide tailored for UK exporters, addressing key aspects and questions regarding the transition to CDS.

Introduction to CDS

The CDS is HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) new platform for submitting customs declarations. It’s designed to be more robust, flexible, and capable of handling the increasing volume and complexity of international trade activities compared to its predecessor, the CHIEF system​​​​​​.

Understanding CHIEF

The CHIEF system has been the backbone of UK customs declarations for over 30 years. It facilitated the declaration process for goods entering and leaving the UK, providing a platform for traders, freight forwarders, and logistics providers to submit necessary customs information.

However, with the increasing complexity of global trade and the need for more detailed data exchange, CHIEF’s limitations became evident. It lacked the flexibility and data capacity required for modern customs processing, prompting the development and transition to a more robust CDS system.

Why the transition?

The move to CDS is part of HMRC’s broader initiative to modernize and streamline customs processes. CDS aims to provide a more user-friendly interface, enhanced data security, and improved compliance with international standards, including the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) Data Model​​.

What are the changes for exporters?

The CDS system introduces several new features and requirements for exporters:

  • Data elements: Unlike CHIEF, CDS is structured around groups of Data Elements, each covering specific aspects of customs declarations. This change aims to provide more clarity and detail in submissions​​.
  • Software requirements: Exporters will need CDS-compliant software to submit declarations. It’s crucial to ensure your software provider is ready for CDS​​.
  • More detailed information: CDS requires more detailed information, making it “data-hungry.” This means exporters need to be more diligent in gathering and reporting data​​.

Preparing for the CDS launch: Essential steps for exporters

To ensure a smooth transition from CHIEF to CDS, exporters and businesses involved in international trade should take proactive steps:

  • Educate your team: Engage in CDS training programs offered by HMRC or trade associations. Understanding the system’s functionality and data requirements is crucial. Online resources, webinars, and workshops can provide valuable insights into navigating the CDS platform.
  • Review and update internal processes: Evaluate your current data collection and management processes. CDS requires more detailed information, so you might need to adjust your internal procedures to gather and organise the necessary data efficiently.
  • Software and system updates: Ensure your software solutions are CDS-ready. This might involve upgrading existing systems or acquiring new software that is compatible with CDS requirements. Stay in close communication with your software providers to confirm timelines and support for the transition.
  • Data quality and compliance: Pay close attention to the quality of the data you will submit through CDS. Incorrect or incomplete data can lead to delays and compliance issues. Implement checks and balances within your organisation to verify the accuracy and completeness of the data before submission.
  • Financial planning: Anticipate potential costs associated with the transition, including software updates, training, and possible adjustments in working capital due to changes in the customs declaration process. Budget accordingly to mitigate the financial impact.
  • Engage with customs brokers and freight forwarders: If you use third-party services for customs declarations, discuss their readiness and plans for the transition to CDS. Understanding their preparedness can help you adjust your logistics and supply chain strategies accordingly.
  • Stay informed: Keep abreast of the latest updates and guidance from HMRC regarding CDS. Regulations and requirements may evolve, and being informed will help you adapt more swiftly to any changes.
  • Trial and deedback: Participate in any trial phases or feedback sessions offered by HMRC. This can provide practical experience with the system before full implementation and an opportunity to address any concerns or difficulties you encounter.

What will the impact be on exporters?

  • Adjustment period: Exporters may face a learning curve as they adapt to the new system and its requirements. Training and preparation will be key to a smooth transition.
  • Software updates: Exporters using software for declarations will need to ensure their systems are updated and compatible with CDS.
  • Increased data precision: The emphasis on detailed data submission may require exporters to adjust their data collection and management practices.

Support and resources

HMRC provides extensive guidance, training, and support for CDS users. Additionally, many industry organisations and software providers offer resources and assistance to help businesses transition smoothly to CDS.

The switch to CDS is a significant milestone for UK exporters, marking a move towards more efficient, transparent customs processing. While the transition may present challenges, particularly in adapting to the new data requirements, it ultimately aims to facilitate smoother trade operations and compliance with global customs standards.

As the 4 June 2024 deadline approaches, exporters should prioritise preparation, leveraging available resources and support to ensure they are fully ready for the new system’s implementation.

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About the Author

Trade Finance Global (TFG) assists companies with raising debt finance. While we can access many traditional forms of finance, we specialise in alternative finance and complex funding solutions related to international trade. We help companies to raise finance in ways that is sometimes out of reach for mainstream lenders.

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