Commodity Codes and Binding Tariff Decisions

When importing goods into the UK you need to have a harmonised customs commodity code. This is to calculate customs duties and to know if you require any licences for that particular product. Due to the tariff system being complicated it is often very difficult for the first time importer and even experience ones to pick the correct code to use. Anybody who has looked at the online trade tariff available at the UK government site will see that is a complex document with hundreds of pages, covering every conceivable product.  Most clearing agents can help you find a suitable code for your product, though importers should always remember this can only be given as a recommendation. It is possible that the even an experienced agent is unsure of which is the best tariff code code to use for that product. The importer at this point then needs to apply for a binding tariff information decision directly from HM Customs and Excise. This is a legally binding decision in the UK (and until December 2020 the EU) which is valid on all imports and exports for the next 3 years.

One you have obtained the decision you can then use this to look up the commodity code in the trade tariff. This will tell you:

  • The basic duty rate for imports
  • If VAT is applicable for imports
  • Depending on the country of origin if a preference rate (reduced duty) is applicable
  • Any licences required
  • Any other restrictions or requirements

The government notice number 600 goes in to further details on what you need to have before applying and how to apply.  You can apply directly by following this link which will take you directly to the HM login page. This service is free from the HM Customs and any website which charges for this service should be avoided as only HM Customs can issue the official decision. The customs duty liability team will require from you a detailed packing list and photographs of the intended product to be imported or exported. Any additional information such as brochures and manuals are also beneficial when submitting a request. In some cases the customs duty liability team may require you to send them a sample of the product so they can properly assess it.

As an importer if you are using a broker to clear you goods remember to pass this information on to them. If you are unsure how to read the trade tariff ask your broker to check it for you. Ensure you ask the broker before the shipment leaves the loading port to allow you time in case you need to obtain any additional documentation. HM Customs always has the right to right to you and withdraw the decision. Importers should be aware that is not possible to retrospectively apply the decision to customs declarations already made. The binding decision is only applicable to the importer named and is not transferrable to another one. In this case a new application would have to be made.