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Q&A: What small businesses need to know about the new import rules

Promotional feature from HM Government

Since 1 January 2022, businesses who move goods into the UK from the EU, traders and hauliers, have had to follow new rules.

Yahoo Finance spoke to Mike Wilson, chief executive of Go Exporting about the finer details small businesses need to know in relation to the latest rules.

Q: In brief, what do small businesses need to know about the new rules?

Previously, trading with the EU was the same as trading within the UK because of the single market, with common rules and regulations. However, now that the UK has left the EU trade is different.

Due to the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), the way we do business with the EU has changed and so must businesses.

Q: Which businesses are affected?

All businesses that trade with the EU will have been affected in one way or another, but the major changes will have been felt by those importing products rather than offering services.

We have clients who source from two, three, sometimes four or more EU countries, process in two or more countries and then finish off in the UK. Supply chains have more steps to follow within them and the flow of goods is very different. But once businesses have completed the process they will become much more familiar with the changes and accustomed to new ways of doing things.

Q: What are the key changes that came into place on 1 Jan?

Customs Declarations

Businesses needed time to grapple with the new rules for customs declarations, since leaving the EU. The Government helped to support businesses by bringing in the new rules in stages. From 1 January 2022 most of those easements have ended.

Throughout 2021, importing businesses were able to delay their customs declarations and submit the relevant information within 175 days.

From 1 January 2022, however, full customs declarations at the time of import are now a requirement, unless you are approved to make simplified declarations.

Some businesses already have authorisation to make simplified declarations - this allows their goods to be released directly to a specified customs procedure without having to provide a full customs declaration at the point of release.

If you want to use Simplified Declarations, you/your agent will need authorisation to do so before you import your goods. It can take up to 60 calendar days to complete the checks needed for this. To find out more, go to GOV.UK and search ‘simplified declarations’.

Failure to submit a customs declaration will mean the shipment is stopped and not allowed to enter free circulation until this is rectified. Importers must, therefore, make sure they or their representative (such as their customs agent or freight forwarder) have all the required information to hand to submit their customs declaration at the time of import.

Find out more on custom declarations

Note: The new rules do not yet apply to imports from the island of Ireland into Great Britain.

Rules of Origin

From 1 January businesses must hold the required evidence to support their claim for origin. To benefit from the reduced rate of Customs Duty (preferential tariffs), you must have proof that the goods you import into the UK from the EU originate in the EU and the goods you export to the EU originate in the UK.

Without the right evidence, you might have to pay duty on your goods and even shipments from 2021 could incur retrospective duty if you cannot comply.

Importers must note that if you have claimed origin based on ‘Importers Knowledge’ it is your responsibility to gather the required evidence. If you cannot prove it, then duty and penalties may well become due.

Find out more on rules of origin


Pre-notification requirements for certain foods, animal and plant products, which were originally delayed from 1 October 2021, have now come into effect since 1 January 2022.

For businesses importing certain sanitary or phytosanitary goods such as meat or plants into Great Britain, it is now necessary to pre-register their imports on the relevant system. They cannot simply turn up at a port.

All required documents, such as health certificates, need to be inputted into the IT systems to pre-notify UK customs.

For more information on importing food or animal products visit:

For more information on importing plants or plant products visit:

Note: The new rules do not yet apply to imports from the island of Ireland into Great Britain.

Q: How have businesses you work with found the changes so far?

So far we have not seen the same disruptions as we saw in January last year, when there were issues importers and exporters adapting to new trading rules, whilst also dealing with challenges brought by Covid. Businesses seem to be getting to grips with the new rules this time around and are very willing to share knowledge with others once they have nailed internal processes.

As last year went on we saw more specific questions from businesses as they gained experience of the changes and a drive to review operating models to be fit for purpose for the new normal. We saw great demand for full company Brexit Reviews.

Q: What are the specific challenges for businesses?

The key issues or questions we have seen from customers are:


Some businesses had nottaken advantage of the option to delay paying VAT on import to their next VAT Return. This is done by informing the freight forwarder/courier ahead of time to make sure it is included on the customs paperwork. Some businesses were not aware so had to pay VAT at the time of import, which can be avoided.

Triangulation has been an issue also. This is where there are three companies involved in a single supply of goods within the EU, and they are all in three different countries. For example, a UK company sells to a client in France, then sources from Italy and wants to ship direct. This now requires a local VAT number. We have seen a number of clients struggling with this point and it can cause challenges with rules of origin.

Rules of Origin

Last year we advised many clients on the new rules of origin in the UK-EU TCA. It is important to understand the rules as they apply to a particular product to be able to determine its correct origin and claim the zero-rate duty benefit the TCA brings.

We saw some initial confusion over the sufficient processing requirement and calculation of the value of non-originating materials. As the year went on clients, on the whole, came to understand the rules and amended their operating models accordingly to stay competitive.

It is important that businesses now hold the correct evidence to support their origin and preferential duty claims if called upon to prove it to the authorities.

Customs Declarations

The Government really helped UK importers during 2021 by not immediately imposing full customs declarations. Instead, businesses were able to delay these for up to 175 days, allowing them plenty of time to gather the necessary information. This had the dual effect of avoiding unnecessary delays at port whilst shippers came to terms with the new requirements. Consequently, businesses had time to prepare for the 1stJanuary 2022 when full declarations at the time of import became necessary.


Incoterms define who is responsible for what in an export/import transaction such as the cost of transport, export and import declarations, VAT and duties. When the UK was part of the EU, businesses did not need to worry about these for intra-EU shipments due to the free movement of goods. Since 1st January 2021, however, it has been important for importers and exporters to understand the implications of the different terms. Initially some clients overlooked the importance of Incoterms, but as the year went on, they followed our advice and avoided unexpected issues.

Q: What tips would you give to small businesses that import from the EU into the UK?

There is no one size fits all in terms of organisation, every company has its own requirements. However, it is vital to make sure you have the basics right:

● Make sure you are fully aware of the rules and that the terms and conditions are clearly agreed with suppliers in advance. Incoterms need to be clear.

● Ensure you advise your customs agent/forwarder you want to use the delayed VAT accounting option.

● Be aware of the rules of origin in the TCA and how this affects your imports, plus re-exports to the EU. Ensure you hold the evidence to prove origin if requested.

● Review your operating model and potential benefits of customs special procedures such as Customs Warehousing and Inward Processing Relief.

● Review your supply chain to see if it is still the most efficient given the new rules.

Q: Is this the time to tap into the global marketplace?

Importing from the EU is still a great option for businesses due to the terms of the TCA allowing for duty free trade when the conditions are met.

The EU is still the UK’s biggest and closest trading partner. Once you understand the rules and adjust your operating model accordingly, there are still great opportunities.

Reviewing your supply chain makes a lot of sense, having options closer to home, whether UK or EU, can help insulate against the supply reliability risks we have seen during the pandemic. Many businesses are looking to spread their risk.

From an export and importing perspective the world is now a smaller place. Exporting to the EU is similar to exporting anywhere in the world. This is a great opportunity for businesses to assess markets and identify those offering the greatest overall potential. We have helped a number of clients take a fresh approach to their export strategy. We use a scoring system to rank countries taking into account market size, barriers to entry, currency and country risk etc. There are big opportunities in Asia, Africa and South America for example which traders may previously have not considered as it was the default option to simply deal with the EU.

The information in this article was correct at the time of publication

Read more in our Post Brexit Trade section on Yahoo Finance