Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight: the processing system of trader declarations

Use the CHIEF system to process declarations for goods entering and leaving the UK or EU through ports and airports, and complete customs information electronically.


The Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system records the declaration to Customs of goods by land, air and sea. It allows importers, exporters and freight forwarders to complete customs information electronically, and automatically checks for entry errors. CHIEF connects with five Community System Providers (CSPs); these are independent trade systems that directly serve hundreds of carriers, transit sheds and freight forwarders. CSPs record and track the movement of goods within ports and airports, enabling them to operate more efficiently. CHIEF is also part of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) risk assessment process, it identifies which consignments, or goods within a consignment, will need to be physically examined, or have their documentation examined. This gives legitimate goods, and those deemed to be a low-level risk, faster passage when they are directly imported from non-EU countries, or exported to them from the UK.

How the CHIEF system aids imports and exports

CHIEF is a national computer system, it carries out 3 key functions for HMRC:

  • the collection of £34 billion of revenue each year
  • the accurate collection of international trade and transport statistics
  • the protection of society by controlling the import and export of restricted goods, and detecting the smuggling of prohibited goods

CHIEF services

  • direct trader access to electronic processing of imports and exports - including the calculation of duties, currency and quantity conversions, and the automatic clearance of consignments
  • identification of goods which require documentary or physical examination, making use of a highly sophisticated risk profiling system
  • information for the production of the UK’s external trade statistics
  • a means of electronic communication between customs and business users
  • validation of the accuracy of data input - CHIEF advises the users of any errors
  • recording, monitoring and accounting for duties and taxes incurred by individual importers

How to Submit Import/Export Declarations

Traders can submit import/export/transit or pre arrival declarations by a variety of methods:

  • CSPs - Customs-approved third party service providers offering trader access to inventory controlled ports around the UK
  • Excise Movement Control System (EMCS) - the EMCS is aimed at all Excise businesses who are currently involved in the movement of goods in/under duty suspense
  • Import Control System (ICS) - ICS is provided for the use of carriers responsible for bringing goods into the EU that require Safety and Security checks
  • New Community Transit System (NCTS) - a basic, free to use service, suitable for low volume NCTS users
  • National Export System (NES) - for traders to submit Export Declarations to the CHIEF system - please note that at the present time, NES XML traders must obtain a digital certificate from an approved supplier
  • hard copy declarations - HMRC do permit the submission of manually completed customs declarations under agreed circumstances - completed hard copy declarations should be submitted to HMRC, National Clearance Hub

Technical Specifications for CHIEF

CHIEF supports both Human Computer Interface and DTI EDI interfaces, with dedicated high-speed communications links to the CSPs and customs offices throughout the UK.

Sophisticated system security and resilience features have been built into the CHIEF architecture to prevent sabotage or unauthorised access and to provide effective business continuity.

The CHIEF system is supported by detailed user guides for trade users and the more technically minded which address technical questions you may have on CHIEF functionality.

If you connect to CHIEF via Direct Trader Input (DTI), you can refer to the documentation that has been provided by either your software package supplier or the CSP in question. HMRC provides a list of commercial providers with DTI links to CHIEF.

Fallback options if CHIEF is unavailable

There may be occasions where the CHIEF system and/or the local computerised inventory control systems are not available. The procedures which will be introduced in these circumstances are known as ‘fallback’.

When connectivity is unavailable for a short period, fallback measures will not necessarily be invoked. But traders may, when directed, use the fallback procedure. Fallback procedures may involve manual processing of declarations and/or other documents by HMRC. There are 2 types of fallback procedures:

  • short term (system not available for up to 24 hours) - short term procedures allow for the manual clearance of goods during fallback but require that the declaration information is later keyed into the computer system
  • long term (system not available for over 24 hours) - long term procedures do not require the declaration information to be keyed in

Once it is confirmed that some of the available routes into CHIEF have been down for at least half a working day and are expected to be unavailable for the foreseeable future, HMRC will invoke one of the 2 fallback plans to enable entry procedures for users of the affected access route only.

CSP system local fallback forms - CCS-UK

In the event of sustained CHIEF unavailability and as part of local customs fallback procedures at London Heathrow Airport, users should use the CCS-UK user fallback forms, which any CCS-UK CHIEF user can submit through the Heathrow Entry Processing Unit (EPU).

You can find CCS-UK user fallback forms.

You can find details of the fallback plans within Volume Three of the Integrated Tariff of the UK (the Tariff), or you can call the NES Helpline on Telephone: 029 2032 6371 or the HMRC Excise and Customs Helpline on Telephone: 0300 200 3700.

You need to complete 3 forms under fallback procedures:

  • C88/ESS - Export Security Single Administrative Document (SAD) - if you’re not authorised for simplified procedures, you must complete all the required boxes on form C88/ESS as a full export declaration; if you’re authorised for the Simplified Declaration Procedure or Local Control Procedures, you can submit partially completed C88/ESSs as Pre-Shipment Advices (this is initial data which must be followed by a full supplementary customs declaration up to 2 weeks after the goods have left the UK)
  • C1402 - the C88/ESS must be supported with a form C1402 stating that you’ll send the SAD declaration electronically once CHIEF is in operation again
  • C130EX - finally, you must complete form C130EX for authentication by customs to indicate that the goods have permission to progress

All these forms must be headed ‘Fallback’ in red ink. You must keep copies of all forms that you fill in under the fallback procedures.

Using the Management Support System (MSS)

When a customs audit takes place, the local officer holds records of actual data entered, and will raise assessments against traders on duties for imports that are declared to customs, but not matched by the trader’s records.

This mainly arises where an appointed agent has inadvertently failed to make a correct declaration. It is the importer who is responsible for correctly declaring goods and only negligible liability is placed upon the agent.

Larger traders with multi-site operations have particular difficulty in keeping administrative records of their imports, due to the number of different locations employing different agents.

Providing records to traders means the traders work would be simplified and they would have a better chance of getting it right. Customs would need to spend less time chasing cases of inadvertent non-compliance. Traders own management information and administration systems would also benefit, for example, by giving accurate figures for total amount of duty paid against value of goods entered.

Read more MSS: supporting guidance to the trade.

Reports available from MSS are:

  • sample reports - a single sample of 1 month’s recent import and export data will be made available to prospective customers to enable them to see whether or not subscription to the scheme will be of benefit to them; this information can only be provided by means of a written request on business-headed paper from a responsible person of the business, for example sole proprietor, partner or director
  • standard reports - four standard reports are available covering import item, import entry, import tax lines and export item data - for a single standard report there is a charge of £240 per annum, plus VAT, for each type of report required
  • customised reports - these cost £423.75 per report, plus VAT, and you can request additional data items or historical data; however, not all data items available on MSS are available for purchase in reports - HMRC reserves the right not to provide certain confidential information

MSS sends the information via email. The normal format for electronic delivery will be a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

Fill in a sales agreement for MSS reports.

For any enquiries about MSS, you should contact the MSS team on Email:

Plans to replace CHIEF

Future European Union legislative process and procedure changes under the Union Customs Code, across the international trade spectrum, mean that HMRC are rethinking the future of CHIEF.

You can find more information about these changes in Customs Information Paper (14)03 (PDF 14k).

A new HMRC programme has been established to consider the replacement of the CHIEF system in a wider context. Replacing CHIEF is part of a larger change to build new and cross-cutting capability at the border. The new programme is called the Customs Declaration Services programme.

Further information

How fallback measures apply to your business

NES information

Customs Declaration Services programme

Automatic License Verification System (ALVS)

Published 2 August 2012
Last updated 7 March 2014 + show all updates
  1. This guide has been updated to include details of HMRC plans to replace the CHIEF service.
  2. Changes requested to 'Using the Management Support System' section.
  3. First published.