HomeUK RulesBusinessesExporting › Customs Agents
Appointing Customs Agents UK

Submitting import and export declarations can be a complex procedure for importers and exporters in the United Kingdom. This section explains why appointing customs agents or brokers to handle the paperwork is not essential - but it usually keeps the goods moving along.

Getting Help with UK Customs Declarations

Customs brokers expedite the clearance of imported and exported products through the various customs processes.

Types of businesses that deal with customs on your behalf, include:

  • Freight forwarders (logistics experts)
  • Customs intermediaries (e.g. agents or brokers)
  • Fast parcel operators (e.g. couriers)

Note: HMRC has a facility that allows you to search the register of customs agents and fast parcel operators that handle import and export declarations.

In most cases, the type of commercial agreement that you have with any of these organisations will determine (both):

  • Who is liable?
  • What services they can provide for you.

But, you must provide them with written instructions before a hired person or business can deal with customs for you.

One of the purposes of creating a written instruction is to show whether the customs intermediary will be acting ‘directly’ or ‘indirectly’. HMRC may ask to see evidence of the authorisation.

Being Established in the UK for Customs

Individuals and companies can act as a direct or indirect representative. But, they need to be established in the United Kingdom and meet several authorisation rules, such as for:

  • Authorised Economic Operator (AEO)
  • Comprehensive customs guarantee
  • Simplified customs declarations
  • Special procedures authorisations

Note: The main section explains more about the rules and regulations for exporting goods and services in the United Kingdom.

Corporations and Partnerships

To meet the requirements as a partnership or a corporation established in the United Kingdom, you must have a UK-based (any):

  • Central headquarters
  • Permanent business establishment
  • Registered office
Individual Representatives

Having a residence in the United Kingdom, and living in it for a period of at least 183 days per year, would mean you are established for customs purposes as an individual.

Multi-national or Large Companies

As a rule, a multi-national company will have a parent company as well as subsidiaries or smaller branches. Any of these can be established in one (or more than one) region of the United Kingdom.

Note: National company law would determine whether the branch or the subsidiary would have the status of a separate legal person.

Providing Evidence of Establishment

If HM Revenue and Customs ask you to provide evidence of your establishment in the UK, you will need to supply them with:

  • A certificate of registration (issued by the Registrar of Companies).
  • Addresses of physical premises owned or leased by the business.
  • Details about staff locations and what kind of work they perform.
  • Information about contracts, orders, and invoices held or issued by the business.
  • Some proof that the business keeps a set of its own accounts.

Important: Having a UK VAT or UK Economic Operator Registration and Identification number does not always prove evidence of establishment.

Permanent Business Establishments

Having a place of business where you are employing staff on a permanent basis, and where technical resources are always present, is classed as a permanent business establishment.

Furthermore, any customs operations must either be wholly or partly carried out at the same premises to meet the requirements.

Using a Freight Forwarder

Freight forwarders are experts in the logistics of moving all kinds of goods around the world. Importers will use a freight forwarder to arrange for the clearing of products through customs.

In simple terms, they use special software to communicate with the different customs and tax systems used by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Note: The British International Freight Association (BIFA) is the leading body that represents the international freight services industry in the United Kingdom.

Customs Agents or Brokers

The primary role of a customs agent is being able to offer a professional customs clearance and representation service. Hence, traders who are exporting and importing goods to and from international destinations will pay for their expertise.

Fast Parcel Operators

There are several important reasons for using a fast parcel operator to import and export when making customs declarations. For example, a fast parcel operator can transport:

Note: The Association of International Courier and Express Services (AICES) website contains more information about the role and services offered by fast parcel operators in the United Kingdom.

Before You Appoint a Customs Agent

You will need to prepare some documentation any time you get someone to deal with customs for you, including:

  • A clear description of what products you will be importing or exporting and some evidence (e.g. invoices or contracts).
  • Checking imported goods are eligible (when using simplified declaration processes).
  • The appropriate licences or certification for any ‘restricted goods’.
  • Your valid EORI number.

The person or agent doing customs declarations on your behalf may request extra documentation. Remember to confirm the terms and conditions of your representation (in writing) and keep a copy for your own records.

Using Direct Representation

If you get someone to act directly (e.g. hiring an individual or a business to act in your name), you would have the sole liability for:

  • Keeping accurate records.
  • The accuracy of any information provided on a customs declaration.
  • Paying any relevant Customs Duty or import VAT.

Note: Giving clear instructions to a direct representative means they could become ‘jointly’ liable if they make a deliberate or an unreasonable error.

As long as you hold authorisation to do so, you can ask someone to act directly with customs for you and declare goods for (any):

  • Inward or outward processing
  • End-use relief
  • Private customs warehousing
  • Temporary admission

Furthermore, you will also be able to ask someone to act with customs in your name if you hold authorisation for (either):

To ask someone to act directly for you, and use their own authorisation, they would need to be established in the UK and import goods into Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

If so, they can make customs declarations using (either):

  • An entry in the declarant’s record.
  • Simplified declaration procedure.

In this case, the representative acting ‘directly’ and making declarations in the name of an exporter or importer would not be held ‘jointly’ liable.

You may need a duty deferment account to be able to make payments (e.g. unless they use their own). It is best to agree this part before they make the declaration for you.

Using Indirect Representation

If someone acts with customs for you, and is using their own name instead of yours, they will be:

  • Equally responsible for ensuring the information is accurate.
  • Jointly and individually (severally) liable for any Customs Duty or import VAT.

As long as the person or business that is acting indirectly has authorisation, the indirect intermediary will be able to make customs declarations using (either):

  • Entry in the declarant’s records.
  • Simplified declaration procedures.

What if you are not established in the UK and you want to import products into Great Britain (England, Scotland, or Wales)? In this case, you can only ask someone to act ‘indirectly’ for you.

You may need a duty deferment account to be able to make payments (e.g. unless they use their own). It is best to agree this part before they make the declaration for you.

Nonetheless, using someone to act indirectly with customs for you will not be possible when declaring goods for (any):

  • Inward or outward processing
  • End-use relief
  • Private customs warehousing
  • Temporary admission

Related Help Guides

Note: This short video presented by HMRC explains how using a customs intermediary or agent can help your business move goods into or out of the United Kingdom.

Getting a Person or Business to Deal with Customs in the United Kingdom