If you are moving goods to or from the UK then you will need to classify your goods using the UK Integrated Trade Tariff.
All UK businesses must declare any imports or exports to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that any import VAT, duty, excise or levies due on them under UK and European law are collected.
How different goods are classified largely determines what duties and controls apply to them. HMRC uses commodity codes found in the UK Integrated Trade Tariff (the Tariff) to classify individual products. Classification of commodities is necessary for import and export declarations as well as Intrastat returns. Other government departments also rely on Tariff classification for licences and other documents.
Find out in this section about the role of the Tariff when classifying your goods. The guide also provides information about useful resources and services that are available to help you, including the Tariff Classification Service, which can provide legally binding advice and decisions on the classification of the goods.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.
The importance of classifying your goods
If you intend to move goods to and from the UK it’s essential that they’re classified in order to identify what duties and controls apply and ensure a correct customs declaration. Whether or not you have an agent who handles customs entries on your behalf, you have a legal responsibility to ensure the correct classification is applied. Incorrect classification can lead to delays in clearing goods, overpayment of duty and possible penalties.
HMRC uses classification information to collect data and trade statistics. Classify your goods correctly as it will help to ensure that you:
- pay the correct amount of duty and VAT
- know if duty is suspended on any of your goods
- know if any preferential duty rates can be applied
- know whether you need to obtain an import or export licence - for plant and animal products on health and conservation grounds or for firearms and hazardous materials
- know whether excise or anti-dumping duties apply (dumping relates to goods that are exported from one country to another at a lower than normal price)
- avoid paying interest on back-payments for incorrect classification
- avoid seizure of your goods or delays to their movement
Many goods are subject to specific controls - eg those falling under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EU or those subject to anti-dumping duties or tariff quotas. By correctly classifying these products you’ll know what measures apply to you.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports online UK Trade Tariff tool.
The Tariff is based on the EU TARIC (TARiff Integre Communautaire). Member states of the EU hold commodity codes in the TARIC. Commodity codes and other regulations are updated daily which ensures that importers and exporters can rely on the same standards and treatment throughout the EU. The UK Trade Tariff uses the daily updates of the TARIC directly so that Tariff users have access to consistently accurate information.
Occasionally correct classification relies on supporting resources such as HMRC industry specific classification guides, Harmonised System Explanatory Notes and Combined Nomenclature Explanatory Notes.
The role of the Tariff
In order to classify your goods you’ll need to make use of the Integrated Tariff of the UK - commonly known as the Tariff. This is a large document containing a product coding system which provides a comprehensive guide to importing and exporting. You can buy it in binder form or access it online. Volume 2 of the Tariff contains a list of commodity codes that HMRC uses to determine the class under which exports and imports are entered.
The commodity code is a ten digit number although an additional four digits may apply to certain products. For imports from outside the EU it’s necessary to provide the full Tariff classification. For exports the first eight digits are sufficient.
Tariff classification in the EU is based on the harmonised system which defines the first six digits. Although many countries subscribe to the same Tariff classification system, actual classifications may differ. The following diagram sets the structure of the TARIC codes and additional codes - ‘HS’ refers to ‘Harmonised System’ and ‘CN’ refers to ‘Combined Nomenclature’.
If you rely on the classification from your overseas supplier, you’ll need to check whether it’s applicable to the UK.
The Tariff is published as a whole every year, is updated monthly and is based on EU legislation. It is made up of three volumes:
- Volume 1 contains essential background information for importers and exporters. It covers duty relief schemes, contact addresses for organisations such as the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, the Defra and the Forestry Commission. It also contains an explanation of excise duty, Tariff quotas and many similar topics
- Volume 2 contains a schedule of duty rates and trade statistical descriptions on 16,600 commodity codes
- Volume 3 contains a box-by-box completion guide for import and export entries - the Single Administrative Document (SAD), or form C88, the complete list of Customs Procedure Codes for importing and exporting, the country codes for the world, lists of UK docks and airports both alphabetically and by their Entry Processing Unit numbers, and further general information about importing or exporting
Classifying your goods
Before completing the SAD you need to know how to use the Tariff’s general rules to classify your goods.
General Rules for classification using the Tariff
To find the correct code for your goods, use the General Rules contained in the Tariff. There are six rules which should be applied in order:
- covers the main headings under which goods are classed
- covers incomplete or unfinished articles and articles of mixed materials or substances
- covers goods which can be classified under more than one description - it also covers composite goods of different materials and sets for retail
- covers goods which can’t be classified using the first three rules
- covers packaging items that come with the goods
- covers subheadings under which goods are classed
In order to apply these rules correctly you’ll need to be able to describe your goods accurately. Many manufactured items are made up of several parts. If you’re trading in foodstuffs or domestic products, for example, you need to know what they contain before you consult the Tariff. This will help make your classification as accurate as possible.
For example, a fully assembled bicycle is classified as:
|Chapter 87||vehicles, other than railway or tramway rolling-stock and parts and accessories thereof|
|Subheading 871200||bicycles and other cycles (including delivery tricycles), not motorised|
|CN Code 8712 00 30||Bicycles, with ball bearings|
|CN Code 871200 70||Other|
Rules 2, 3 and 4 are used less frequently than the others and you should seek help from the Tariff Classification Service when referring to them.
The SAD is used to declare goods that are moved from one part of the EU to another. This form can be completed manually or electronically although manual submissions may well take longer to process. You can register for electronic declarations via the government Gateway website.
Once you have found the commodity code matching the description of your goods enter it in box 33 of the SAD - a copy of which can be found in Volume 3 of the Tariff. Alternatively, you can find the SAD form on the HMRC website.
You should also enter the customs procedure code that applies to you in box 37 of the SAD. These two entries will determine how your goods will be treated by customs officials in the country of importation. Read about the SAD on the HMRC website.
Where to find the Tariff
The UK Trade Tariff is available online for most of the information you’ll need to import or export and there are helpful tools for managing your Tariff information.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool
The Tariff Classification Service
For further clarification, contact the Tariff Classification Service (TCS) who will provide advice on up to three items for import or export per call. Goods are divided into:
- Option 1: Food, animals, plastics, rubber and textiles including garments.
- Option 2: Electrical and mechanical items, miscellaneous goods including printed matter, wood and vehicles
If you’d like customs to make a binding decision on correct classification of your goods, you should apply electronically for a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) ruling. You can find out about electronic BTI on the HMRC website.
This BTI will be legally binding throughout the EU for up to six years after the date of issue.
BTI is usually free. You will have to pay costs incurred through laboratory analysis, obtaining expert advice and returning your samples.
BTI provides you with:
- the correct commodity code for your goods
- a detailed description of your goods, enabling any customs regime to identify them
- legal justification for the decision TCS has reached
- a unique reference number
BTI can only be obtained before any customs procedures take place. Your request may be refused altogether if you:
- don’t plan to import or export the goods in question
- have made a similar application in another EU member state
- can’t provide complete information about your goods
Enter your BTI reference number in Box 44 of the SAD which must accompany your goods throughout the EU. See declarations and the SAD.
You should complete a separate application form for each type of item you want classified.
If you’re unhappy with a BTI decision you may lodge an appeal with HMRC. You have 45 days to request an independent review of the decision. If you’re unhappy with the review you have 30 days to apply for a tribunal hearing.
Further help with classification of import or export goods
There are many resources available to help you accurately classify your goods. Volume one of the Tariff provides much of this information. In Part 1, you’ll find a list of other publications which are available to help you with classification, including:
- Harmonised System Explanatory Notes (HSENs). These give useful guidance on the scope of Tariff chapters, headings and sub-headings. You can buy HSENs on the World Customs Organisation (WCO) website.
- Combined Nomenclature Explanatory Notes (CNENs). These are supplementary to the HSENS. They are available on the European Commission site, and are updated once a year. Find the CNENs on the Europa website.
- The Compendium of Classification Opinions. These deal with decisions taken by the Harmonised System Committee which confirm classifications which were in doubt. You can buy the Compendium of Classification Opinions on the WCO website.
If you want practical help on how to use the Tariff and HSENs you may request education from the Tariff Classification Service. You can call the HMRC Tariff Classification Service enquiry line on Telephone: 01702 366 077.
The UK Trade Tariff is available for free online for most of the information you’ll need to import or export. The UK Trade Tariff also includes helpful tools for managing your Tariff information.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.
If you’re trading with a third country outside the EU you can access their tariffs via the European Commission Market Access Database. This database lets you search for a product code based on your product description. It also gives important tariff information as applicable in third countries. Search the Market Access Database website.
If you still need guidance you may want to contact your trade association or chamber of commerce. Find your nearest on the British Chambers of Commerce website.