Vital UK customs system outage contributes to travel chaos at its borders

Remember warning about hurried release to meet Brexit deadline? Never forget

Updated A system vital to the flow of goods across the UK's border has suffered a devastating outage following a rush to implement it in time for the Brexit deadline.

Last night, the UK's tax collector's technical teams were struggling to resolve an outage affecting the goods vehicle movement service (GVMS), introduced to help managed customs tariffs after the UK left the European Union.

Dover District Council, the local authority in the busy port town that is closest to the European mainland, is preparing to declare a major incident as a 23-mile (37km) stretch of the multilane M20 highway remains closed to accommodate queuing freight.

Easter traffic and the suspension of the P&O crossing following mass redundancies at the Dover Calais freight and passenger ferry service have all contributed to the chaos, but the technical outage of GVMS is another factor, haulage insiders said.

According to reports in The Guardian, road transport companies cited the technology breakdown as a major contributor to the chaos. They say GVMS first hit problems on 30 March and has not been available for use by traders and hauliers since the following day.

The system is designed to link information on cross-border customs declarations of goods with the vehicle that is transporting them. The report says transport managers could not use GVMS to get the relevant "single movement" reference number to leave the UK, causing delays and cancellations.

Her Majesty's Customs & Revenue, the department responsible for GVMS, told the paper its IT systems were stable and it had put in place contingency processes to ensure businesses could keep goods and freight moving while it return to full service.

The Register has submitted further questions to HMRC and is waiting for a response.

GVMS was released in stages in December 2020 and June 2021. The system for the post-Brexit management of goods crossing the EU border was still in development in November 2020 and the department planned for the first release to be a"minimum viable product” according to a report from spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).

"HMRC assessed in early September that the overall readiness of GVMS was high risk, due to a lack of time for adequate integration and testing with hauliers and carriers. In response, HMRC has prioritised activity and is focusing only on the elements essential to support transit movements and the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol," the National Audit Office said in its November 2021 report into the end of the Brexit transition period.

According to The Guardian, GVMS has suffered a systems outage since it was temporarily taken offline during an update to another HMRC customs system, handling import and export freight, known as Chief.

The Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight system is set to retire in 2023, 10 years after plans to phase it out began and 29 years after it came into service. In 2020, HMRC awarded Fujitsu £168.8m to keep Chief up and running – as well as 13 other HMRC applications running on its Virtual Managed Environment (VME) Platform – until 2025.

Glitches in the GVMS system also hit hauliers in January and meant they were unable to get load shipments onto the system and or reference codes accepted. ®

Updated to add at 12.59 UTC on April 8, 2022

A HMRC spokesperson told us the system is back online: "Following an outage last week, we have successfully made changes to the HMRC network to allow availability of the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS).

"Contingencies will remain in place over the weekend to continue to ensure the movement of goods and allow continued testing. From Monday midday, Goods Movement References will be required for all movements using GVMS."

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