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By the end of March 2023, CHIEF (Customs Handling of Imports and Export Freight) which is the system that records the movement of goods by land, air and sea in the UK will be fully replaced by CDS (Customs Declaration Service)

Why is CHIEF getting replaced by CDS?

The UK government believes that the migration from CHIEF to CDS is critical to the long-term flow of trade, offering flexibility to accommodate future improvements to imports and exports.

The upgrade to CDS is also mandatory for UK to comply to the Northern Ireland Protocol. This switch is also important to maintain a dual UK and EU trade tariff – which is something CHIEF has not been set up to do.

UK left EU on the 31st of January 2020. The CDS system was due to become the only system to operate once the UK left the EU, but it was not ready to handle the large increase in customs declarations expected. As a temperory measure (till CDS was ready), functionalities were added to the CHIEF and its system was updated.  

CDS will play a key role in in the government’s plans for a world-leading fully digitized border that will help UK businesses to trade and prosper.

Instead of switching off CHIEF the government used both the systems in parallel

  • CHIEF – Customs declarations relating to imports in Great Britain
  • CDS – Customs declarations relating imports in Nothern Ireland

When will the transition be completed?

Having used this dual approach for few years, the government is now confident in CDS. CHIEF will be closed off in 2 phases

  1. On 30 September 2022 : It will no longer be usable for import declarations
  2. On 31 March 2023 : Export declarations will close on the CHIEF and the National Exports System (NES)

After 31 March 2023 all businesses need to declare goods through the CDS.

How do its users feel about this transition?

Even though the UK government has stated that its taking all measures to make the transition as smooth as possible, there have been mixed reviews from experts in the industry on this migration.

Steve Bartlett, Chair of the Association of Freight Software Suppliers and Des Hiscock,  Director general of the UK Association for International told the EU goods sub-committee CDS both have told EU goods sub-committee that the CDS system was not ready and that there should be a plan to turn to a fall-back option.

Mr. Bartlett went on record to say “We are working on 6 systems to handle trade flows following the end of (Brexit) transition period.

“Of these, 3 are adaptations of existing EU systems, to which we are adding a UK flavor, and one is CHIEF, the legacy customs declarations system. We’re reasonably confident they will be ready by the end of the year.

“But CDS is causing grave concerns as it is unproven, has only been tested at a simplified level and lacks the functionality for the new customs processes”.

Set to replace CHIEF next year, the government had planned to roll out a test variant of CDS at the start of this year to allow industry to acquaint itself with the system. However, what was eventually released was a “dramatically descaled” version that lacked many of the functions government had promised.

Mr.Hiscock told the committee “The CDS that has been presented is not going to deliver what is required to effectively manage UK hauliers’ needs. It is not ready, remains unproven and, as late as Friday was not working.

Authentication problems with HRMC, and connection issues, have made it difficult to test a declaration. With 52 days to go, this is totally unacceptable.”

Adding to worries within the industry is that it takes roughly 4 times as long to process a declaration through CDS as it does through CHIEF, added Mr. Hiscock.

Former head of the the UK’s Rail Freight Group Lord Berkeley asked whether a fall-back option existed, if CDS failed, and Mr.Hiscock said he believed CHIEF was the fall-back and that this was where the focus should now turn.

“CHIEF’s capacity has been substantially increased so it should be able to handle volumes, and government grants have focused on training people in it”, said Mr. Hiscock.

The government on the other hand is confident of CDS citing that it has been developed over a number of years in consultation with the border industry and will provide a more secure and stable platform that has the capacity and capability to grow in line with the government’s ambitious trade plans. The move to one system for all imports and exports will also deliver savings for the Tax payer.


In spite of which party is more likely to be correct with their predictions on how successful a complete switch from CHIEF to CDS is going to be, the transition is definitely going to be challenging. This is where using a smart OCR solution such as CargoDoc which will help automate your data entry into CargoWise becomes super handy.

Both CargoDoc and CargoWise will make your transition from CHIEF to CDS a smoother one. For more information and a product demo email us on sales@cargodoc.ai

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