HM Revenue and Customs’ 27-year-old CHIEF IT system for processing customs declarations is to be shut down for good on 31 March 2023.
It will be replaced by the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which began operating in 2018 and is already used to process declarations from non-EU countries, as well as those relating to movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
From 30 September 2022, CHIEF – which stands for Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight – will cease processing declarations for the import of goods from the EU. Export declarations will close, on both CHIEF and the National Exports System, from 31 March 2023.
At that point, CDS will become the UK’s only customs platform and will process all declarations for the export and import of goods to and from all other countries.
In a joint statement, Sophie Dean and Katherine Green, HMRC’s directors general for borders and trade, said: “CDS is a key part of the government’s plans for a world-leading fully digitised border that will help UK businesses to trade and to prosper. This announcement will provide clarity for traders and the border industry. We are committed to making the switchover as smooth as possible and are working to ensure traders are fully supported with the new processes.”
CHIEF has been in operation since 1994. Work on developing CDS as a replacement platform began in 2015.
At that point, the plan was to construct a platform capable of handling up to 100 million declarations each year – comfortably in excess of the 50-60 million typical annual total.
A year into development work, the Brexit vote meant that UK border systems had to prepare for a future in which the number of customs declarations processed each year is expected to grow to more than 250 million.
The sudden need to massively increase the scale of CDS brought with it a requirement for significant extra funding – and warnings from public-spending watchdogs that a failure to provide it could have “catastrophic” consequences for businesses and government.
The urgency and magnitude of work on the new customs system also saw HMRC stop, suspend, scale back or consolidate more than 100 other programmes of work dedicated to digital or transformation initiatives.
Having pledged that it would deliver CDS “whether we get the funding or not”, HMRC began incrementally rolling out the platform in August 2018.
CHIEF has continued to run alongside the new system though, with no ultimate shutdown date for the near-three-decade-old technology confirmed – until now.
Sam Trendall is the editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appeared.