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The end of an era – Cessation of the printed tariff

December 2019 marked a sad occasion for all customs bibliophiles.

HM Revenue & Customs announced back in July 2019 that the printed version of the tariff and its monthly updates would finally cease in December 2019 and all material would only be available in a digital online format.

Over the years many a budding and eager customs practitioner would wait excitedly for a bundle of amendments to arrive so that they could happily retrieve their voluminous ledgers and spend several hours removing and inserting pages of updated information relating to tariff data on what classification of a particular imported item had changed. (Perhaps ‘excitedly’ and ‘eager’ are not the right adjectives but rose-tinted spectacles and all that).

The ‘tariff’ contains thousands and thousands of lines of information and no customs office – private or public – was without access to a copy and, if particularly fortunate, the accompanying HSENS (Harmonised System Explanatory Notes). The tariff usually ran to three large volumes and was as comprehensive as it was unwieldy. However, contained within were not just commodity codes, preferences, quotas and embargos but such snippets as the code numbers (and addresses) for all the Entry Processing Units (EPUs), lists of customs procedure codes (and how to formulate them), country codes and proforma entry documents to name but four.

Its aim was also to provide access to the processes and logistics of freight procedures quickly and efficiently; I often find myself still flicking to and fro trying to recall some obscure piece of information long since forgotten in detail but still lurking somewhere in the customs subconscious but unable to be quickly brought to the surface due to age and obscurity!

Although December marks a transition from an analogue to a fully digital world I, for one, will be placing the manuals back on my shelves in case of emergency.

Now we have the ‘interim’ UK tariff, published in readiness for Brexit changes, the presentation and function will no doubt continue for some time yet. However, delving into the tariff remains a rite of passage. Being able to navigate the nuances of the various columns and the apparent hieroglyphs contained therein signalled entry (apologies again) to a unique world of specialist and little understood data.

Therefore, similar to the demise of HM Customs & Excise, please raise a glass to the end of another customs era (or should that be raise “an article of heading and subheading 70 13 22 10 00 possibly attracting 11.00% import duty and 20% import VAT”).

For more information, please contact Simon Sutcliffe.

This article is taken from the latest edition of our Customs Digest newsletter, looking to help businesses and individuals keep up to date with the latest customs and excise duty regimes and issues. If you would like to receive future editions of this publication, please register on our insights page here.