1. Basic information about classifying your import or exports

1.1 What is this notice about?

It explains the procedures for classifying your imports or exports. It also explains how to obtain a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) decision.

1.2 What’s changed?

This notice explains the new procedures for applying for a BTI ruling applicable from 1 April 2014 and updates HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) contact numbers.

This notice and others mentioned are available on our website.

1.3 What is “classifying”?

You will need to decide the correct ‘class’ or commodity code for your goods in trade according to the UK Tariff in order to clear your goods through Customs.

1.4 Why is classifying important?

It is important to make sure that you:

  • pay the correct amount of duty and VAT
  • receive any export refund due on some agricultural goods, provided all other conditions are satisfied
  • contribute to the accuracy of import and export trade statistics
  • know if an import or export licence is needed

If you classify incorrectly then:

  • you could be penalised if your goods are incorrectly classified on the Customs entry
  • you may have to pay any arrears plus interest, of duties and VAT which have occurred as a result over at least the previous 3 years
  • your goods may be delayed and/or seized

1.5 Who is legally responsible for classifying goods?

You, as the importer or exporter are legally responsible for the correct Tariff classification of your goods. This applies even if you employ an agent to handle your customs entries on your behalf. (Customs Code Implementing Regulation (2454/93 Article 199 – declarant is responsible for accuracy of declaration, authenticity of documents and obligations etc. refers.)

1.6 Who can I contact for help in classification?

You can apply to the Tariff Classification Service for a BTI decision on the correct commodity code for your goods - see section 3. The Tariff Classification Service also provides verbal advice but this is for assistance only and is not legally binding (see paragraph 2.2).

1.7 What do I need to classify my goods?

We recommend that you examine a copy of the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (“Tariff” for short). This is based on the Combined Nomenclature of the European Communities which remains the definitive legal document (see paragraph 1.9). You may also access the online Tariff at https://www.gov.uk/trade-tariff

1.8 What is the Tariff?

The Tariff is an annual publication, updated monthly, containing useful information about customs import and export requirements. It is presented in a clear and logical fashion to help you locate the information you require conveniently, comprising 3 volumes as follows:

  • Volume 1 contains general information about import/export matters
  • Volume 2 contains the schedule of duty and trade statistical descriptions, codes and rates
  • Volume 3 contains information about customs freight procedures including directions for completing the Single Administrative Document (SAD) (Form C88)

1.9 The basis of the Tariff

The Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom is based on the Combined Nomenclature (CN) of the European Community. The CN is published annually as a Commission Regulation (amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87) in the Legislation series of the Official Journal of the European Communities.

The CN, in turn, is based on the Harmonized Commodity description and Coding system used worldwide.

The Tariff also includes TARIC requirements (see Volume 2, section 5 of the Tariff for details).

1.10 Where can I see the latest edition of the Tariff?

You can obtain a copy of the Tariff from:

  • the Excise and Customs helpline on Telephone: 0300 200 3700
  • the main reference libraries

Or, you can purchase the 3 volume set from:

  • TSO Limited Publications Centre (see section 6)

Annual subscription rates apply as it is updated monthly. Or websites:

1.11 Are there any other helpful publications available?

Other publications available to assist with Tariff classification are listed in Volume 1, Part 1 of the Tariff. These include:

  • Explanatory Notes to the Harmonized System (HSENs)
  • Explanatory Notes to the Combined Nomenclature (CNENs)
  • The Compendium of Classification Opinions
  • The European Inventory of Chemicals

For information about these publications contact our Excise and Customs helpline or alternatively you can buy those from Data Beuro (see section 6). We also produce a number of classification guides which are designed to help you classify specific goods (see section 5).

1.12 Is there anything else I need to know before I classify my goods?

You will need a full and accurate description of the goods.

Some goods, for example, prepared foodstuffs, are classified according to their constituents and you may need precise details of their composition and use. You may wish to obtain analytical advice from an independent laboratory of your choice at your own expense. The Library and Information Centre of the Royal Society of Chemistry can provide you with details of analysts (see section 6).

2. How to classify

2.1 How do I classify my goods?

You must apply the 6 general rules for the Interpretation of the Nomenclatures governing the principles of the Tariff classification procedure. These must be applied to your goods from the outset, and in sequential order.

The rules can be found within Volume 2, section 3 of the Tariff and in more detail on pages 1 to 8 of the HSENs.

You should be able to classify most of your goods using rules 1, 5 and 6. These relate to the legal terms of the headings and subheadings and their relevant section and chapter notes. They also relate to the nature of the packaging for the goods involved.

If you think that rules 2, 3 or 4 might apply to your goods then seek advice from us, as it is likely that more complex Tariff classification principles will be involved.

2.2 Where can I get help to classify my goods?

If, after studying the Tariff and seeking guidance from other sources such as a Trade Association or a Chamber of Commerce, there is still an uncertainty about the correct Tariff classification of specific goods, you can ask the Tariff Classification Service. Please note that this is limited to 3 enquiries per call.

However, you should be aware that whilst every care is taken to provide accurate advice, verbal advice is not legally binding. If there remains any element of doubt we recommend that you apply for a BTI. The contact details are:

  • Telephone: 03000 513 777 (national call rates apply)
  • opening hours: Monday to Thursday 1pm to 5pm
    Friday 1pm to 4.30pm (excluding Bank Holidays)

2.3 Using the Tariff Classification Service

When using the Tariff Classification Service you will be given 2 options.

Option Description
Option 1 For the classification of food, animals, chemicals, plastic, rubber, textiles including garments, shoes and toys
Option 2 For the classification of electrical and mechanical items, miscellaneous goods including printed matter, wood and vehicles

If you need a legally binding decision you can apply for BTI ruling (see section 3).

For all other enquiries, including duty rates and VAT, please phone our Excise and Customs helpline on Telephone: 0300 200 3700 Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm. For online services and other information, our website address is www.hmrc.gov.uk

2.4 What else should I check?

Once you have determined the correct commodity code for your goods you will be able to find out from the Tariff whether:

  • any Department for Business , Innovation and Skills (formerly known as the DTI/BERR) licensing requirements apply to your goods
  • any other fiscal measures such as excise or anti-dumping duties apply to your goods
  • a temporary suspension of duty may be available
  • a preferential rate of duty or quota may be available

You will also be able to find out the rate of duty and import VAT applicable to your goods.

If your goods are subject to the provisions of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) you may need a licence for imports or exports.

There may be an additional charge in respect of imports, for example, Anti-Dumping Duty (see Volume 1, part 6 for details) or a refund available in respect of exports. Additionally, your goods may need to satisfy certain plant health requirements.

Further advice can be obtained from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and The Rural Affairs Agency formerly the Intervention Board Executive Agency (see section 6).

Amendments to the Tariff may be made at any time. Notifications about important changes, for example to duty rates or commodity codes, are prominently displayed in local HMRC offices.

EC Regulations adopted in respect of Tariff classification decisions are also publicised in this way. Look for “Tariff Notices”.

3. Binding Tariff Information decisions

3.1 What is BTI?

This is a written classification decision, given on request, which is legally binding on all customs administrations within the European Community for up to 6 years from the date of issue. From 1 May 2016 they will be valid for 3 years.

3.2 Must I have a BTI?

No. BTI is intended to give you assurance about the correct Tariff classification of your goods. It is not a legal requirement.

BTI decisions are made under the terms of Council Regulation (EEC) 2913/92 of 12 October 1992 (as amended) establishing the Community Customs Code, and the Implementing Provisions contained in Commission Regulation (EEC) 2454/93 of 2 July 1993 (as amended). This forms part of Community Law and applies in all member states of the EU.

3.4 Are there any restrictions?

Yes. The Community Customs Code dictates that BTI can only be supplied where an import or export operation is actually envisaged. This means before all customs procedures have been completed. BTI decisions cannot be made retrospectively.

The Community Customs Code also requires that you indicate the commodity code that you consider is appropriate for your goods when you apply for BTI (see paragraph 3.6).

3.5 What are the advantages of obtaining BTI decisions?

Obtaining a BTI decision about the correct Tariff classification for your goods can benefit your business in that it:

  • provides certainty that you, or your chosen representative, can declare the correct commodity code for your goods on the customs entry
  • helps you meet your legal obligations in respect of correct Tariff classification and make sure that your liability for duties, VAT and other charges, or your eligibility for certain refunds (such as CAP) are known in advance
  • alerts you to any import or export licensing requirements or if quotas or other quantitative restrictions apply to your goods
  • contributes to the quality of the Overseas Trade Statistics which form the basis to the UK’s Balance of Payments and can be used to monitor market trends

3.6 How can I obtain a BTI decision?

From 1 April 2014 all requests for a BTI will have to be submitted to HMRC on an electronic Binding Tariff (eBTI) form which is accessed via the Government Gateway

A separate application form must be completed for each type of good for which a BTI is required. The decision(s) will cover all future consignments of identical goods.

Representative sample(s) and/or technical literature to support a BTI application should be sent to:

HM Revenue and Customs
Customs Duty Liability Team - Tariff Classification Service
10th Floor SE
Alexander House
21 Victoria Avenue
SS99 1AA

3.7 What will it cost?

BTI will be supplied free of charge under the terms of the Community Customs Code. However, costs may be passed on to you where we incur them in respect of obtaining laboratory analysis or expert advice about your sample and returning your samples.

If a sample is considered to be hazardous, it is important that you phone the Tariff Classification Service, because the sample may not be accepted by us for health and safety reasons. In some instances a sample may not be required, a photograph or packaging detailing the analytical make up of the product may suffice.

3.8 Can you refuse to issue BTI?

We can refuse an application for BTI if you:

  • are not planning to import or export the goods
  • have applied for BTI for the same goods in another member state
  • are unable to supply all the necessary information about your goods
  • have already cleared your goods through Customs Import Procedures

3.9 Can the BTI decision be changed?

Although BTI decisions are normally valid for 6 years, (from 1 May 2016 they will be valid for 3 years), they may be revoked in circumstances such as:

  • inaccurate or incomplete information was provided to us on application
  • the composition of the goods subsequently changes, the BTI may no longer apply
  • there is a change in the wording of the HSENs or CNENs which affects interpretation of the nomenclature
  • the terms of the subheading or commodity code number changes, which alters the classification of the goods
  • there are subsequent changes in the interpretation of the nomenclatures which make the original decision no longer compatible with EC law
  • if a BTI is revoked as a result of an EC Regulation, European Court Judgement, or Classification Opinion, the holder may still use it for a limited period. This is provided that evidence can be produced to HMRC that the goods are covered by binding commercial contracts made on the basis of the original BTI decision

3.10 How will you notify me of the decision?

You will be sent a legal document bearing the correct commodity code for the goods and the start date for the period of validity of the information.

The document carries a reference number which is uniquely identifiable with the particular goods for which the decision has been issued. It will also show the name and address of the holder of the information, that is, the person legally entitled to use it. BTI is non-transferable.

The BTI also shows an explicit description of the goods to which it relates (including any specific marks and numbers) which can be used to readily identify your goods at the frontier.

The basis of the legal justification for the decision will also be shown on the BTI. In certain circumstances the justification may be expanded within a covering letter.

3.11 What else happens?

An electronic copy of the BTI decision will be sent to Brussels for inclusion in the European database of BTI, accessible by the customs administrations of all member states.

3.12 How should I use the BTI?

If you hold a BTI for particular goods then you should indicate this on your customs entries by declaring the unique BTI reference number in Box 44 of the SAD.

If an agent or other representative completes customs documentation on your behalf, you should advise them about the existence of your BTI and the correct commodity code for your particular goods.

3.13 What if I do not agree with a BTI decision?

If you do not agree with the legal justification for the Tariff classification decision contained in the BTI you may request a review (see section 4).

3.14 Help us to help you

When requesting a BTI decision you should:

  • send us all the information we need in order to process your BTI application
  • not leave your BTI application until the last minute
  • avoid multiple applications wherever possible, as these may cause delays

If you need to request multiple BTIs (10 or more in one week) please email us first via tariff.classification@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk to discuss your requirements.

3.15 What if I require the samples returned?

If you require return of any sample, give us at least 24 hours notice if you want to collect your sample from our Southend office. We can then make sure that it is ready for collection. After 30 days the sample will automatically be destroyed unless collected or postage has been included for the sample to be returned.

4. Appeals

4.1 Can I appeal against your classification decisions?

Yes, The Finance Act 1994 contained the main legal provision for an independent appeals system for most of our written decisions issued on or after 1 January 1995.

For information on how to request a departmental review of a BTI decision you should write to the Review and Appeals Team at the address at section 6.

5. List of Tariff Classification guides

(referred to in paragraph 1.11)

  • classification guides can be accessed by clicking here
  • classifying aircraft parts and accessories for aircraft
  • classifying audio and video equipment
  • classifying ceramics
  • classifying computers and software
  • classifying edible fruits, nuts and peel
  • classifying edible vegetables, roots and tubers
  • classifying electric lamps
  • classifying footwear
  • classifying herbal medicines, supplements, tonics
  • classifying iron and steel
  • classifying leather
  • classifying organic chemicals
  • classifying organic chemicals
  • classifying pharmaceutical products
  • classifying placebos and comparators
  • classifying plastics
  • classifying rice
  • classifying textiles apparel
  • classifying tobacco
  • classifying toys, games and sports equipment
  • classifying vehicles
  • classifying wood

6. List of useful contacts

(referred to in paragraphs 1.10, 1.11, 1.12, 4.3)

Tariff Classification Service (for Tariff classification matters)

HM Revenue and Customs
Customs Duty Liability Team - Tariff Classification
10th Floor SE
Alexander House
21 Victoria Avenue
SS99 1AA

The free on-line UK Trade Tariff is available for your use to look up classification codes. This offers easy access to tariff information by providing commodity code and duty rate listings together with a search engine to facilitate enquiries and allow self-service to commodity code information.

However if after visiting this site you are unable to self-assess your products, you can request additional support by sending a request by email to classification.enquiries@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk.

Please ensure that one item only is detailed per email and that the request includes the following type of information, so that we can deal with your enquiry efficiently:

  • what the product is
  • what it is made of, if made or more than one material please explain the breakdown of the materials
  • what it is used for
  • what the product works/functions
  • how it is presented/packaged

Additionally detailed below is some additional information that is required on certain products:

  • for footwear – please include the type (shoe, boot, slipper etc.), upper material details, outer sole material details, the heel height and the purpose for men or woman
  • for food – please include precise composition details by percentage weight of all the ingredients to 100% and the method of manufacture or process undergone e.g. fresh, frozen, dried, further prepared/preserved
  • for chemicals – please include the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Number, whether the product is a liquid/powder/solid and include the % ingredients
  • for textiles – please include the material composition, how it is constructed (knitted/woven) and the name of fabric
  • for vehicles – please include the age, the engine type (petrol or diesel), the engine size, whether the vehicle is new or used, whether the vehicle is over 30 years old and whether it is in its original condition. Is the vehicle going to be for everyday use?

A classification officer will then email a response back to you providing you with non-legally binding classification advice based on the information you have supplied.

Reviews and Appeals

HM Revenue and Customs
Review and Appeals Team
7th Floor SE Alexander House
21 Victoria Avenue
SS99 1AA

Telephone: 03000 593569
Fax: 03000 594275

Trade Statistics

HM Revenue and Customs
Trade Statistics
3rd floor Central
Alexander House
Essex SS99 1AA

Telephone: 03000 594250
Fax: 0300 594289
Email: uktradeinfo@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk

The Rural Payments Agency

PO Box 1AW
Newcastle Upon Tyne
NE99 1AW

Telephone: 0191 273-9696

TSO Limited Publications Centre

PO Box 276

Telephone: 0870 6005522
Fax: 0870 6005533
Email: book.enquirie@theso.co.uk

The Royal Society of Chemistry

Library and Information Service
Burlington House

Telephone: 020 7437 8656
Fax: 020 7437 8883
Email: library@rsc.org


Foss House
Kings Pool
1 - 2 Peasholme Green

Telephone: 01904 641000
Fax: 01904 455222
Email: q.info@ph.defra.gov.uk

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) formerly the Department of Trade and Industry

Import Licensing
Queensway House
West Precinct
TS23 2NF

Telephone: 01642 364333 or 364334
Fax: 01642 361956
Email: enquiries.ilb@imlb.dti.gov.uk


Data Beuro Ltd
The Rufus Centre
Steppingley Road
MK45 1AH

Telephone: 01525 752689
Fax: 01525 752690
Email: books@databeuro.com

Your rights and obligations

Your Charter explains what you can expect from us and what we can expect from you. For more information go to Your Charter

Do you have any comments or suggestions?

If you have any comments or suggestions to make about this notice, please write to:

HM Revenue and Customs
Tariff Classification Service
10th Floor SE
Alexander House
21 Victoria Avenue
SS99 1AA

Please note this address is not for general enquiries.

For your general enquiries please phone our helpline on Telephone: 0300 200 3700.

Putting things right

If you are not satisfied with our service, please let the person dealing with your affairs know what is wrong. We will work as quickly as possible to put things right and settle your complaint. If you are still unhappy, ask for your complaint to be referred to the Complaints Manager.

For more information about our complaints procedures go to www.hmrc.gov.uk and under quick links select Complaints.

How we use your information

HMRC is a Data Controller under the Data Protection Act 1998. We hold information for the purposes specified in our notification to the Information Commissioner, including the assessment and collection of tax and duties, the payment of benefits and the prevention and detection of crime, and may use this information for any of them.

We may get information about you from others, or we may give information to them. If we do, it will only be as the law permits to:

  • check the accuracy of information
  • prevent or detect crime
  • protect public funds

We may check information we receive about you with what is already in our records. This can include information provided by you, as well as by others, such as other government departments or agencies and overseas tax and customs authorities. We will not give information to anyone outside HMRC unless the law permits us to do so. For more information go to www.hmrc.gov.uk and look for Data Protection Act within the Search facility.