Fujitsu's 30-year-old UK customs system just keeps hanging on

After declaring the end of CHIEF at least five times in as many years, HMRC hopes this June 2024 date will stick

The UK's tax collector has named the date for migrating from a 30-year-old customs IT system for the fifth time in as many years after planning its replacement for more than a decade.

In a missive published last week, His Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) said businesses using the aging Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) service for export declarations had until June 4, 2024, to move onto the replacement Customs Declaration Service (CDS).

The CDS has been running since 2018 for import declarations, and more than 100 million customs declarations have already been submitted through CDS, including more than 30 percent of all export declarations.

In a prepared statement, Sarah Hartley, HMRC's director of border change delivery, said: "The open migration for exports from CHIEF to CDS marks a key milestone for HMRC … we are encouraging businesses to move over as soon as they can so the transition to CDS is as smooth as possible for everyone."

CHIEF was first introduced in 1994 so it may even make its 30th birthday. It was managed by BT until 2010, when it was handed over to Aspire, a joint venture between Capgemini, Fujitsu, and HMRC. HMRC ended Aspire in 2017 and in-sourced the work, although it kept Fujitsu and Capgemini on as contractors.

In 2018, public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) said hitting the target date of January 2019 to migrate all traders from CHIEF to CDS was "unlikely" because the platform was only due to be released a month earlier.

In 2020, HMRC awarded Fujitsu a £168.8 million ($213 million) contract without competition to keep the CHIEF system running beyond March 31, 2021.

In November 2021, the NAO said HMRC planned to complete key CDS development work by January 2022, "which would allow HMRC to transition all users onto CDS." Its report said a phased approach would allow CHIEF "to be retired by the end of June 2023."

However, in December 2022, HMRC issued a statement saying that following a consultation with the border industry, exporters would be allowed until November 30, 2023, to move across to CDS.

"After 30 November 2023, businesses will need to use CDS to make export declarations for goods they send out of the UK, as they already do for import declarations," it said.

Except they didn't have to. Another statement in August 2023 said businesses would have to move to CDS for exports by Saturday, March 30, 2024.

Last week's announcement of the new date of June 4, 2024, may have been down to HMRC erring on the side of caution. It has, after all, been preparing to replace CHIEF with CDS – built by IBM – since 2013. In the time since it was first launched, CHIEF has seen off seven prime ministers. If it clings on for a few more months, and with a general election looming, it might just see off an eighth. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like