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Border IT system fixed after 10-day outage

Post-Brexit border IT system failure fixed after going down at the start of April, allowing traders to once again file customs documents electronically rather than by hand

The outage of a border IT system set up after Brexit to improve waiting times has created further delays for hauliers and traders already facing long queues at Dover.

The government’s Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), which allows companies moving goods between the UK and the European Union (EU) to file customs forms electronically, has been down since 31 March after an update to a separate government customs system, known as Chief, took it offline.

Following the outage, drivers were unable to access the GVMS portal and obtain a goods movement reference (GMR) number, which is essentially a barcode required to leave the UK.

GVMS users were instead forced to provide alternative documentation on an interim basis, including a “transit accompanying document” and a “declaration unique consignment reference”, but unlike the GMR barcode, these are not scannable and therefore add to processing time at the border as they need to be completed by hand.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which developed and is responsible for the GVMS, said these and other interim measures would be in place until midday today (11 April), and confirmed to Computer Weekly that it has been “business as usual” from that time.

“Following an outage last week, we successfully made changes to the HMRC network to allow availability of the GVMS,” said a spokesperson for HMRC. “Contingencies remained in place over the weekend to continue to ensure the movement of goods and allow continued testing. From Monday midday, goods movement references are required for all movements using GVMS.”

According to a Financial Times report, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said some of its members hauling fresh meat had been “stranded” for up to two days. In response, the association, which represents the UK meat industry, called on the government to fast-track the export of perishable goods.

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A BMPA spokesperson confirmed to Computer Weekly that the association understood the system was operational after hearing feedback from member companies that hauliers had been able to access the system again.

The outage, combined with a number of other factors – including voyage cancellations resulting from P&O Ferries dismissing nearly 800 staff without notice, increased tourism traffic around Easter and poor weather conditions – to create massive, 30-mile-plus standstill queues leading up to the border.

Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, described the week-long outage to GVMS as “really unhelpful” at a time of an “accumulation” of other problems.

In November 2020, a National Audit Office report noted that the overall readiness of the GVMS system was high-risk “due to a lack of time for adequate integration and testing with hauliers and carriers”.

Tim Reardon, head of EU Exit at the Port of Dover, said as early as June 2020: “If HMRC were to buy a licence for the French system, that would be a very simple thing to do and traders would like it.”

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