Customs Declaration Service: Introducing the UK’s New Customs System

Since the UK formally left the EU in January 2020, the amount of customs declarations required for UK import and export has massively increased. Subsequently, the previous HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) system needed replacing to better service the huge demand.

Because these systems are changing, HMRC is encouraging businesses to get to know the new method, and ultimately make the switch. As with any new system, staff need to be trained, and major business processes updated.

In this guide to the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS), our freight forwarding and logistics experts at Midas Recruitment explain all you need to know, including how CDS is different to the former HMRC Customs Handling Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system, and how your business can prepare staff for the changeover.

About the New Customs Declaration Service

The new platform for UK customs will become the sole system from March 2023, streamlining the customs process for UK businesses and traders. Based on advanced technology, the CDS offers a superior service to CHIEF, having successfully processed millions of declarations since launching in 2018.

The scalable, secure platform aims to speed up and simplify the process of declaring customs, critical to businesses within the ever-growing industry of freight forwarding and logistics. Importantly, the CDS is more modern and adaptable to changing processes across the UK and world.

The creation of the CDS has been in motion since 2016, the date at which the UK voted to leave the EU, promoting numerous key trade and customs clearance procedures and regulations. Although CDS was launched in 2018, and has since been used alongside CHIEF for cross-border trade declarations for non-EU markets, it will become the sole customs platform for the UK in the next year, by which point, all businesses must migrate.

With a new and improved customs platform, the future of customs is set to be quicker and easier than ever. The CDS will facilitate the UK Government’s goal of having the most efficient customs system, a goal given the ambitious deadline of 2015.

For a full breakdown of the CDS, view GOV.UK.

What are customs? Why are customs declared?

Customs declarations state the value and contents of imports and exports, and are used by origin and destination countries to the ensure the correct tax and duties are applied. The UK has been especially affected in recent years due to leaving the EU, resulting in additional customs controls.

To find out more about EU/UK trade agreements and charges, visit the European Commission website.

Who will use the CDS?

The CDS will be used by UK businesses and traders who handle customs. Essentially, any business that already uses CHIEF will be required to make the switch to the new CDS.

Job roles that may use CDS include:

  • Customs administrators
  • Customs coordinators
  • Freight managers
  • Compliance managers
  • Import coordinators
  • Export coordinators
  • Customs entry clerks
  • Customs clearance operators
  • Trade compliance specialists

When will CDS come into force?

CDS will become the UK’s single customs platform on 31st March 2023, giving businesses plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the new platform. From this date, no other platform will be used for UK customs handling and management.

Customs brokers and compliance providers especially must be familiar with – and hopefully using – the new platform prior to this date. To this end, the platform has been live for multiple years to aid the transition period.

When will CHIEF be closed?

The existing HMRC CHIEF system will be closed in two stages, staggering the migration to CDS for UK businesses and traders.

From 30th September 2022, CHIEF will be no longer support import declarations. Then, on 31st March 2023, CHIEF will be closed for export declarations.

The system was initially supposed to be closed in 2020, however, owing to global events and trade agreements, this was delayed.

What happened to HRMC CHIEF?

The current system, HMRC CHIEF, will no longer be used after March 2023. The system will be formally replaced by CDS due to the changing demands within trade and customs clearance, recently defined in the UK by EU regulation changes due to Brexit.

The previous system was not suitable to cope with increasing customs declaration demands over time. CHIEF could handle approximately 60 million declarations a year, whereas CDS is predicted to handle up to 255 million declaration annually (source); a pivotal and key driver for the switch as the effects of Brexit are felt.


The previous customs declaration platform, CHIEF, is almost 30 years old, and does not reflect the agile, fast paced nature of current trade requirements. As above, the sheer number of declarations that can be processed is the main advantage of changing to the new system.

Notable differences include:

  • CHIEF uses paper-based rules, whereas CDS is based on data processing rules
  • CDS separates various tariff completion requirements across declaring imports, declaring exports, inventory imports, and inventory exports.
  • Whereas CHIEF has numerous free-text formats, CDS has more data elements limited to code format.

See the full list of differences on the UK Government website.

CDS Migration Advice

The more practice with and familiarity businesses can achieve with the new platform, the better. Declarants are encouraged to use the new platform and get used to it before the changeover is not optional. Failure to successfully migrate to the new system may result in business disruption, fines, and penalties.

There is plenty of guidance available to businesses, from phone helplines to webinars to written guidance.

The Institute of Export & International Trade (IOT&IT) have created training materials to instruct businesses and individuals on making the switch to CDS. You can sign up to the training course via their website. There is also IOE&IT support available via consultancy services and their phone helpdesk.

The UK Government has created a hub of fact sheets and key documents concerning CDS, found here.

Freight Forwarding and Logistics Industry Insights

At Midas Recruitment, we pair candidates with exciting careers in freight forwarding and logistics. As industry experts, we stay on top of trends, and gather the latest insights. For more industry insights, including our 2022 salary survey, visit our resources hub.

If you are looking for jobs within customs, or have freight forwarding vacancies, our team can assist you!