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Not enough time to get software ready for end of Brexit transition period, warns industry

Software suppliers are concerned they don't have enough time or information to help businesses be ready on time for the end of the Brexit transition period

The Association of Freight Software Suppliers (AFSS) has warned that there isn’t enough time to get software ready by the end of the Brexit transition period.

The association has written to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to voice its concerns as most members can’t guarantee to have a Customs Declaration Service (CDS) product ready due to not being given enough details on the specifications needed.

HMRC’s customs IT system, the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), is intended to replace the current Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) system for handling import and export freight from outside the European Union (EU).

Businesses importing and exporting goods will need to have software in place to link up with CDS, however CDS has also been running behind schedule and was not ready by the time the UK exited the EU.

The reason for the delay is that software developers at HMRC have had to focus on the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) rather than the new system.

Chief, which has been in place for 27 years, can only handle around 60 million customs declarations per year, but CDS could be required to handle volumes of up to 255 million declarations annually, as well has handling the two different tariffs used in the EU and UK.  

AFSS chair Stephen Bartlett said that “the late delivery” of the system and gaps of detailed information and direction have conspired to lengthen the time needed to produce systems that are fit for purpose”.  

“Even if they could deliver a minimum viable product, it is unrealistic to expect that their end-users will have sufficient time and knowledge to learn the new processes for January 2021,” he said.

This is particularly true of the Northern Ireland (NI) and Ireland border, where Bartlett said HMRC has mandated that CDS and not Chief will be used.

“The CDS NI programme’s current delivery plan is too late and gives AFSS members little or no time to build, test and roll out software to their customers. AFSS members are in turn reliant on readiness of the community service providers (CSPs).”

He added that the association’s members also face challenges beyond CDS, including managing integration to the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), HMRC’s New Computerised Transit System (NCTS), which will record and manage goods coming into the UK, and the old Chief system, among others.

In June 2020, the government had yet to begin building the GVMS, intended to allow trucks to declare goods ahead of reaching the border, allowing for smoother traffic flow, particularly at busier ports such as Dover.

“The need to educate customers on new processes and training will take resource and priority for most AFSS members over migration to CDS,” Bartlett said.

“In addition, with some policy decisions subject to ongoing EU negotiations, AFSS members will not get the detailed specifications they need to allow them to produce the required functionality in time. With many organisations placing change freezes to their IT systems in December and January, may be impossible to roll out any new software.”

An HMRC spokesperson told Computer Weekly that the delivery of border IT systems needed for the end of the transition period is “on track”.

“We are continuing to engage extensively with the software developer community and community system providers to ensure that they have everything they need to develop their products and help their customers when the transition period ends,” the spokesperson said.

Read more about Brexit and IT

  • The UK government has still not built its Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) IT system, despite the end of the Brexit transition period looming, while the Port of Dover’s head of EU exit proposes just licensing the French IT system instead.
  • HMRC will get more than £100m for border IT systems as part of a £705m government funding package for infrastructure, jobs and technology post-Brexit.
  • The IT required to be operational after December 2020 is almost certainly undeliverable, according to Institute for Government report.

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