Who is Responsible for the Customs Declarations?

Who should oversee the submission of customs declaration? Who archives and keeps the documents for the required amount of time? And what about verifying that the information is accurate?

These are questions we often get asked in our meetings with companies dealing with imports (or exports for that matter). Some are taken by surprise by our answers, as a common misinterpretation is that customs brokers or freight forwarders bear the responsibility for most aspects of the customs declaration process.

Our answer is:

Although the freight forwarder or customs broker processes the customs declarations, it is always the importer/exporter of record’s responsibility to ensure an accurate and timely submission of the declaration.

As an example, if no declaration has been made, you, the trader, hold the responsibility in the eyes of the authorities, not your freight forwarder or customs broker. The same goes for declarations containing incorrect information. Even if the error is made by a broker or carrier, you are in the end responsible for validating that the declaration contains the correct information. Would you pay your supplier if the invoice was incorrect?

Although record-keeping is your responsibility you should be aware that if you use an agent or freight forwarder you’re liable for any incorrect information they provide to HMRC


A trader’s responsibilities for the customs declaration process

To elaborate, let’s break down your responsibilities in three stages:

Submitting customs declarations

As the trader, you need to ensure that the declaration is submitted on time and with accurate information (and correcting inaccurate information uncovered in the internal auditing stage).

Whether this is carried out internally or by a customs broker, you need to document your customs process. If you make use of an external broker or agent, we recommend you craft out and issue broker’s instructions.

Internal auditing of customs declarations

Traders are equally responsible for making sure that a declaration has in fact been made, and that the information stated in the declaration is correct.

Common errors to check for includes:

  • Custom classification (importer is responsible for using correct HS codes in their country)
  • Determination of country of origin. Where have the goods actually been produced?
  • Calculation of the customs value. Know the different approved methods for calculating the true and correct value.
Traders and importers are responsible for controlling, submitting and archiving customs declarations
It is the trader’s responsibility to verify that the declaration is made and that the information is correct

Keeping customs declarations

With the keeping and storing of customs declarations, the responsibility is ultimately yours as well.

This means:

  • Storing the declarations for the required time-period
  • In a satisfactory record-keeping system

You should also keep in mind that in the event of an audit, you should be able to easily access and export files promptly.

Read HMRC’s guidance on archiving trade documents

HMRC Customs Audits require quick access to customs data
You should be able to quickly retrieve and export files if you are subjected to an audit

What are the consequences of customs compliance breaches?

By contravening a duty, obligation, requirement, or condition included in or imposed by EU or national customs legislation, or by rules set down in international agreements (such as those dealing with tariff preferences), you can be subjected to customs civil penalties.

Non-compliance may cause penalties and other consequences, in form of fines and amending or revoking authorisations

How much is the fine?

This of course differs from country to country and depends on the severity of the breach and other circumstances.

If we look to the UK, HMRC fines start at £250 and can go up to £2500 per contravention. Based on the severity of the error and the amount of undeclared Customs Duty or import VAT, the fine will be determined.

HMRC’s penalty system is specifically designed to encourage accurate declarations and compliance with the law

To learn more, check out this page where HMRC gives a detailed breakdown of their civil penalties for contraventions of the customs law

HMRC's penalty system is designed to encourage customs compliance and accurate declarations
Customs compliance and accurate declarations are encouraged through HMRC’s penalty system

How can Emma E-Doc assist?

Emma E-Doc, our digital customs archive and compliance software, eases and streamlines the gathering, storing and internal audit of customs documents.

Using Emma E-Doc enables you to:

  • Automate the gathering and storing of customs declarations, supporting documents and data – brokers and forwarders send customs data directly to the platform
  • Detect and request missing declarations from brokers – from within the platform
  • Meets authorities’ requirements for record-keeping-systems and stores documents and data for the required number of years (according to your country’s requirements)

For a full overview of features, visit our Emma E-Doc product page

In the case of an external audit, Emma E-Doc is also proving to be a useful tool.

Emma E-Doc customs audit benefits include:

  • Fast and easy access to all your customs declarations and documents for all the required years
  • No need to waste time waiting for copies of Export C88’s/SAD/Entries from your broker, as they should already be obtained and checked over the years leading up to the audit
  • The option to export and share files and reports as requested by the authorities

Guide: Getting Started with Customs Data Analysis

Take full control of your declarations and customs data, learn how in our guide.

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