UK customs declaration service: Move from CHIEF to CDS with AEB
UK system change

UK customs declaration service: Move from CHIEF to CDS with AEB

The UK customs declaration service CDS is replacing CHIEF. Get an overview of timelines and key differences, and meet requirements with AEB’s customs software.

CDS replaces CHIEF: Timeline for imports and exports

The UK customs authority HMRC is closing its Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system which has been in operation for almost 30 years now. It is being replaced by the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) as the new UK’s single customs platform. All businesses managing UK customs declarations will need to declare goods using the Customs Declaration Service. CDS has been running since 2018 and HMRC is managing the system replacement in phases:


As of September 30, 2022, import declarations are no longer managed in CHIEF and have moved to the new CDS system. 

HMRC had offered a time-limited option for traders to ask for permission to continue using CHIEF for imports from October 1, 2022, onwards, however, this option is no longer available as of December 15, 2022. 


On March 30, 2024, the CHIEF system for exports will formally close and businesses will need to use CDS for their export declarations. This timeline includes a new phased approach that was announced by HMRC on August 23, 2023 as follows: 

  1. Phase: Selected high-volume declarants will move to CDS for exports by November 30, 2023. HMRC will inform applicable traders accordingly. 
  2. Phase: All other businesses will move to CDS for exports by March 30, 2024 – with migrations expected to start in the beginning of the year.

The original deadline for the export migration from CHIEF to CDS was March 31, 2023. This was then extended to November 30, 2023, and has now moved to the new phased approach as outlined above. 

What's the best solution for managing declarations with CDS?

Successful cross-border supply chains are based on reliable, secure, and efficient import and export declaration management. More than 7,000 enterprise customers rely on AEB solutions to automate and accelerate their global trade and logistics processes. 

If you do not have an efficient software solution in place yet or you would like to optimize how you currently manage your UK import and export declarations, you have come to the right place. There are different ways of managing customs declarations and whatever strategy you chose, AEB offers the ideal solution.

This includes managing export and import declarations yourself – in the cloud or integrated directly in your ERP system. And if you are working with customs brokers, you can optimize your collaboration with AEB's customs broker network to save time and money. Follow the links for Import Filing, Export Filing, and Customs Broker Integration to learn more or contact our experts directly to discuss your requirements. 

General info and key differences between CHIEF and CDS

In this section you can find general information about the customs declaration service CDS and the customs handling of import and export freight system CHIEF with reference to the ongoing system replacement by the UK government. As with any system change, users will have to get used to the new environment and associated requirements. 

There are several key differences between how users make declarations on the new customs declaration service compared to the old customs handling of imports and exports freight system. Please find the details below or refer to the HMRC website, which features frequent updates. 

Background of the UK customs system change from CHIEF to CDS

The customs handling of import and export freight system CHIEF has been in use by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for nearly 30 years. Its core function is the processing of declarations to facilitate the international movement of goods between the UK and non-EU countries. Technology has advanced over the years and the CHIEF system cannot easily adapt to new requirements. Plans to retire CHIEF have therefore been underway for a long time – a successor project was eventually announced back in 2015 and a system provider was selected in 2016.

The decision to replace CHIEF with HMRC’s new customer declaration service CDS was made before the EU referendum, but developments since have been factored into the planning so that CDS is scaled to handle the increase in the volume of declarations resulting from Brexit. The customer declaration service CDS has been developed in consultation with the border industry and will provide a more secure and stable platform. CDS has the capacity and capability to grow in line with the UK’s trade plans and the system move is also expected to deliver savings for the taxpayer.

Timeline for the move to the new UK customs declaration service

HMRC will be closing its customs handling of import and export freight system CHIEF on November 30, 2023. From this date, all businesses will need to declare goods through the new customs declaration service CDS. The retirement of the CHIEF system is managed in two stages:

  • September 30, 2022: Import declarations have closed on CHIEF and CDS is now in use
  • November 30, 2023: Export declarations close on CHIEF / National Exports System (NES)
Differences CHIEF/CDS: Customs legislation

CHIEF is based on the Community Customs Code (CCC) and Single Administrative Document (SAD) Harmonisation rules (boxes). CDS is based on the Union Customs Code (UCC) and data integration and harmonization rules.

This means: It’s a move from using paper-based rules on CHIEF to data processing rules on CDS.

Differences CHIEF/CDS: Completing declarations

CHIEF declaration completion requirements can be found in the CHIEF Tariff (online). CDS declaration completion requirements can be found in the CDS Tariff (online), which includes separate sections for declaring imports, declaring exports, Inventory Imports, and inventory exports. 

This means: Using the correct tariff is essential. CDS declarations using the CHIEF tariff will be rejected. And declarations using CHIEF codes will be rejected, too, as the code does not exist on CDS.

HMRC has made detailed trader guidance available online, including separate sections for declaring imports, exports, inventory imports, and inventory exports. You can find the official links here

Differences CHIEF/CDS: Data entry

CHIEF includes 68 Paper form multi-use boxes. CDS includes 91 Single use data elements.

This means: CHIEF declarations are tailored to paper completion and offer several boxes that accept data in a free text format. In the new customs declaration service CDS on the other hand, most data elements are restricted to code format except fields for names, addresses and goods descriptions. One box on CHIEF may equate several different data elements on CDS. Users making declarations need to populate all required data elements, depending on the selected declaration category, and if they do not select the appropriate data set, the declaration will be rejected.

Differences CHIEF/CDS: Procedure codes

CHIEF features 7-digit fixed Customs Procedure Codes (CPCs) for each goods item. CDS codes are split into two parts: a single 4-digit Procedure Code combined with up to 99 different types of 3-digit Additional Procedure Codes (APCs) for a single goods item.

This means: There is no 1:1 correlation between CHIEF CPCs and CDS Procedure Codes (PCs) / (APCs). CHIEF CPCs are unique to a goods item while CDS PCs / APCs are multiple, interchangeable combinations depending on circumstances. The Procedure Code is always the same in CDS regardless of the type of declaration, i.e. the same code is used on simplified, standard, and supplementary declaration types. As code lists are not the same for CHIEF and CDS, users making declarations are required to select the correct code or their declarations will fail.

Differences CHIEF/CDS: Error codes

CHIEF features 4,000 separate error codes while CDS is limited to 200. The CDS error codes refer to the exact data element that incurred an error and allow the user to interpret and resolve it in targeted manner. 

Differences CHIEF/CDS: Payments

Submitting payments through CHIEF is based on Duty Deferment Accounts, guarantee and/or via the Flexible Account System (FAS). CDS on the other hand, offers several payment options including a new cash account and immediate payments. CDS also offers transparency and central online access to financial customs information such as viewing account statements, controlling standing authorities, and making payments.

The UK customs declaration service for AEB customers

If you are already working with Import Filing and/or Export Filing software from AEB, you have the best foundation for the UK government system change from CHIEF to the new customs declaration service CDS. AEB customers have different options to prepare for the change in line with AEB’s comprehensive software migration plan. 

All customers this refers to have already been contacted by our dedicated CDS Migration Team. In addition, you can also visit the AEB Help Center – it delivers all details on the system migration and the steps you need to take. If you have any questions, just get in touch with us.  

AEB Services and Support

If you are working with AEB software, help is always at hand. Go to our Help Center to learn more or contact our expert teams.