Freight industry body Agency Sector Management (ASM) has warned of major disruption when HM Revenue and Customs switches to a new system for handling customs declarations on 1 July.
At present, declarations are handled by the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) IT system managed for HMRC by BT under a contract that extends to 2010.
But substantial changes are being made to Chief to meet EU Single Administrative Document (SAD) harmonisation rules, which are a precursor to allowing declaration data to be passed between EU member states’ computer systems. HMRC has told freight forwarders they must switch over to the new system – which includes new data elements and codes - on 1 July.
ASM, which acts as both a representative organisation and software supplier to the freight industry, warned that the sudden switch would cause chaos as staff grapple with unfamiliar customs declarations and largely untested software.
The freight organisation’s chair, Peter MacSwiney, urged HMRC to think again about moving the industry en masse to the new system on 1 July. He called for a phased approach, migrating organisations to the new system when it is clear that the new software is working properly and that staff are familiar with the new procedures.
"HMRC’s original plan was to run the old and new systems together between March and July, giving forwarders the ability to adapt to the new procedures and uncover any defects of the new system along the way,” he said. “Having both systems available was a far more pragmatic approach compared to the prospect of a cutover to a new system overnight.”
ASM said the UK was lagging behind the rest of the EU in implementing SAD harmonisation – but this was because HMRC already had the most sophisticated customs IT systems, making the task of integrating the new requirements much more complex than in countries where systems were rudimentary or non-existent.