COVID-19: Customs and import VAT changes

Last updated: 14 April 2020

To assist with the COVID-19 response, HMRC has published the following information on COVID-19 easements for importers, exporters and customs authorisations.

Delaying import VAT and duty payments

HMRC have provided us with the following information setting out how affected businesses may qualify for a deferral of import VAT and customs duty payments.

Duty deferment account holders

Duty deferment account holders who are experiencing severe financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19 and who are unable to make payment of deferred customs duties and import VAT due on 15 April 2020 can contact HMRC for approval to enter into an extended period to make full or partial payment, without having their guarantee called upon or their deferment account suspended. The account holder should contact the Duty Deferment Office on 03000 594243 or by email at cdoenquiries [at] hmrc.gov.uk  or the COVID-19 helpline on 0800 024 1222. Account holders will be asked to provide an explanation of how COVID-19 has impacted their business finances and cash flow.

Duty Deferment account holders will be able to use their accounts during the extended payment period agreed unless they default on a subsequent payment in that period, in which case HMRC may consider suspending their account. The outstanding payment will not affect their duty deferment limit so they will not need to increase their guarantee to cover the outstanding payment. Where HMRC agree to an extended payment period, interest will not be charged on the outstanding payments provided they are paid in full by the agreed date.

Duty/import VAT payments not covered by a duty deferment account

Registered Importers who pay cash or an equivalent and are facing severe financial difficulties as a direct result of COVID-19 can contact HMRC to request an extension to the payment deadline at the time the payment is due. They will be asked to provide an explanation of how Covid-19 has impacted on their business finances. HMRC will consider this request and decide whether or not to agree an additional time to pay. The decision will be taken on a case-by-case basis and could be refused.

If the request is approved the conditions, including the length of time offered, will depend upon the importer’s individual circumstances and may require the holding of a guarantee for the period of the time extension. HMRC cannot offer this facility to non-registered importers. For further information, contact the Customs Debt Policy inbox (custdebtrr.customspolicy [at] hmrc.gov.uk)

Customs duty and import VAT on medical supplies, equipment and protective garments

Specific goods such as hand hygiene products, cleaning and medical equipment can be imported without payment of import VAT or customs duties where such goods are either for onward donation or for onward sale in specific circumstances (set out below).

The relief applies until 31 July 2020 and can be claimed by:

  • state organisations, including state bodies, public bodies and other bodies governed by public law; and
  • other authorised non-state bodies

Non-state bodies can request authorisation by contacting the National Import Relief Unit (NIRU) by emailing niru [at] hmrc.gov.uk for an application form.

Relief will apply to protective equipment, other relevant medical devices or equipment that are imported:

  • for donation to those affected by, at risk from, or involved in combating COVID- 19;
  • for donation or onward sale to the NHS;
  • to be made available free of charge to those affected by, at risk from, or involved in combating the COVID-19 outbreak, while remaining the property of the organisations importing them; or
  • by disaster relief agencies for free circulation to meet their needs during the outbreak.

A full list of eligible goods is linked to from the official guidance on GOV.UK.  

VAT on domestic supplies is not affected by this relief, and VAT must be charged and accounted for at the normal rate on any onward sale.

Moving goods through customs

A number of changes have been made to how goods are cleared through customs during the COVID-19 crisis, including:

  • Exports less than €3,000 that are not subject to prohibitions or restrictions can be declared for export in the UK, even if the exporter is established in another EU Member State.
  • For those transporting goods, the expected journey time entered on a transit declaration can reflect anticipated delays.
  • Those unable to accurately calculate their supplementary declaration by the due date as a result of COVID-19 can submit an estimated figure (though for declarations including an amount of Excise duty a supplementary declaration must be submitted as normal).

Further information on all these measures can be found in the official guidance on GOV.UK.

Customs authorisations

To help during the COVID-19 crisis, HMRC have temporarily changed customs policy and authorisations on an exceptional basis.

These changes may affect those who are authorised or applying to be authorised by customs to:

  • use temporary storage or customs special procedures such as inward processing or customs warehousing;
  • use simplified declarations such as entry in their records;
  • have a guarantee; or
  • operate as an Authorised Economic Operator.

Changes have been made in the following areas:

  • What to do if it is not possible to comply with a condition of authorisation.
  • Use of email instead of post to apply for customs authorisations and guarantees.
  • HMRC customs visits
  • Automatic renewals of authorisations.

More information can be found in the official guidance on GOV.UK