The Customs Declaration Service — What You Need to Know

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By Louis Perrin

On March 31st, 2023, the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) takes over from CHIEF (Customs Handling Import and Export Freight). Designed to be a sleeker, digitised single customs platform, CDS is also built around the Union Customs Code and will change the way you make import and export declarations going forward. 

We’ve put together this useful guide to everything you need to know about CDS. It looks at the main differences from the old CHIEF system, key dates, and where you can find the new tariffs and codes you need. 

What is the Customs Declaration Service?

CDS is essentially a one-stop shop for UK customs. It’s being brought in to replace CHIEF and NES (National Export System), which have been in use by HMRC for nearly three decades.

The new system will cover all import and export declarations for the UK — whether by land haulage, air freight, or ocean freight.

Why is CHIEF/NES being replaced?

As we mentioned before, CHIEF has been in place for around 30 years. It’s an old and complex paper-based system, that doesn’t have the capacity to cope with increasing demand and an ever-more digital environment. 

CHIEF is also based around the old Community Customs Code (CCC) and Single Administrative Document (SAD) rules. CDS has been formulated in accordance with the modernised Union Customs Code (UCC) implemented by the EU in 2016. The new system is based on data integration and harmonisation rules, rather than paper-based rules (to better work alongside the UCC).

Though planning for CDS started prior to the EU referendum, the system is also designed to be scalable. It will be more able to cope with the increased declarations caused by Brexit.

CDS: Key Dates

CDS officially comes into effect on March 31st, 2023. However, there are some more key dates you should be aware of.

    • January 2021 — Shipments into Northern Ireland from mainland GB must use CDS or TSS (Trader Support Service). 
    • October 31st, 2021 — Shipments into Northern Ireland from outside the UK or EU must use CDS instead of CHIEF. 
    • September 30th, 2022 — Import declarations can no longer be made with CHIEF and must be made with CDS.

  • March 31st, 2023 — Export declarations can no longer be made with CHIEF or NES and must be made with CDS.

How Can the CDS Impact Me?


When CDS comes into effect, import and export tariffs will change. You can find the new procedures and guidance in the UK Trade Tariff.

Any declarations made using the old CHIEF Tariff will be rejected.

Unlike the CHIEF system, CDS declarations are also separated into four different sections:

  • Declaring Imports
  • Declaring Exports
  • Inventory Imports
  • Inventory Exports


CDS uses completely distinct codes from CHIEF. 

Firstly, procedure codes will look very different under CDS. The old system used 7-digit fixed Customs Procedure Codes (CPCs). Moving forward, you’ll need to use the new two-part codes. These consist of a four-digit Procedure Code combined with up to 99 three-digit Additional Procedure Codes (APCs) depending on the goods being declared.

New code lists will be introduced too, while existing lists (like Port and Country codes) will undergo changes.

There will be no correlation between the old CHIEF codes and the new CDS codes, so you’ll need to ensure you use the correct format to stop your declaration from being rejected.

Payment Methods

Declaration payment processing is also undergoing change. This will apply to:

  • Flexible Accounting Systems (FAS) — These no longer apply to CDS and will be shut down alongside CHIEF. Instead, you’ll get a cash account when you register for CDS.
  • Duty Deferment Accounts — If you hold a DDA, you’ll need to file a new Direct Debit Instruction. Your old DDI should be kept in place though, to cover deferred CHIEF declarations. 

Anyone who has their own Duty Deferment Account will need to register a new Direct Debit Instruction (DDI). CDS uses a separate HMRC bank account for CHIEF and a new CDS DDI will be required. It can take approx 24 hours before your new DDI is live and therefore any delay in setting up could delay your goods, if not done prior to us migrating across to CDS.

Please note, you will need to grant us authority to use your Duty Deferment Account on your Government Gateway.

CHIEF DDI should not be cancelled – this is to settle outstanding CHIEF payments. 

For more detailed information, you can check the government’s Customs Declaration Service Finance Guide.

What Can I Do to Prepare for the New CDS?

Here are the steps you need to make sure you’re ready for CDS from September.

Get your EORI number — Before registering for CDS, you need to ensure you have your EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number. This number is required for any companies trading between EU and non-EU countries. If you haven’t got an EORI number (or you don’t know what yours is) check out our full guide to EORI registration.

Subscribe to CDS — To start using the new Customs Declaration Service, you have to subscribe your Government Gateway user ID to CDS. To register, you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Your EORI number
  • Your Unique Taxpayer Reference number (UTR)
  • The address for your business
  • The date you started your business
  • Your National Insurance number (if you’re a sole trader or an individual)

Adjust your payment method as necessary — Depending on the type of account you hold, you may need to make changes to the way you pay (like setting up a new direct debit). 

CPC and Commodity Codes – Please note that all CPC (Customer Procedure Codes) will change and some commodity codes will require additional information.  This may result in additional information being requested, which has not been needed in the past. 

Useful Links

Below are some useful links regarding CDS that will help guide you through the process.

CDS communication pack

Traders check list

CDS finance guide

Hemisphere Can Help

If you have any more questions about the CDS and what it means for you, our expert team is on hand with the answers. Simply get in touch with us today to find out how we can make the CDS switchover easy.