Returning your customs documentation on time: Tax Tribunal adopts a zero-tolerance approach

14 February 2011

In the recent Tribunal case of Euro Trading Ltd (TC00934), the appellant failed to have a customs debt rescinded because HMRC had not received paperwork the appellant had sent.

The Tribunal ruled that an appellant could not rely upon the defence that the paperwork had been “lost” and instead should have carried out checks to ensure that it had arrived.

Background

The importer, Euro Trading, was operating simplified Inward Processing Relief (IPR) and was obliged to provide a C99 to the National Import Relief Unit (NIRU) within 30 days of the six-month throughput period. However, Euro Trading failed to return the C99 on time and HMRC issued a C18 duty-demand on the basis that Euro Trading had already been warned once before about failure to return documentation on time.

The Arguments

Euro Trading

Euro Trading argued that all correspondence between themselves and NIRU had been held up because of postal strikes. They argued that even the warning letter from NIRU advising that they had missed the 30day deadline arrived over a week late. They further submitted that they had sent the required C99 on time and that it had been “lost” by NIRU. Furthermore, they argued that the imported products had been processed and exported to Norway on ex-works terms and thereafter shipped to Iran and thus the terms of IPR had been fulfilled.

HMRC

HMRC argued that this was not the first time that Euro Trading had failed to submit documentation on time and that on the previous occasion they had cancelled a C18 demand but had warned Euro Trading that any repeat would result in a demand that would not be withdrawn because it would be classed as “obvious negligence”.

HMRC further argued that Euro Trading was aware of the postal strike and therefore should have taken measures to ensure that the documentation was received on time. Failing that, they argued that Euro Trading should have contacted NIRU to explain the situation.

Tribunal Judgement

The Tribunal was unusually straight-to-the-point in its judgement:

“We find that the legislation is clear and the Appellant was well aware of the relevant regulations. Despite having been previously warned about the late submission of a C99 and therefore knowing of the potential penalties, it made no attempt to make absolutely sure that its C99 had been received by NIRU.”

The Tribunal found Euro Trading to be “obviously negligent” and confirmed that the customs debt would stand.

ITS Conclusions

It is unsurprising that the Tribunal ruled in the way that it did. The Customs Code and the Implementing Provisions are clear that as well as being obliged to fulfil obligations associated with the various duty-relief measures, it is the responsibility of the importer to ensure that all customs declarations are submitted within the stated time-limits. The fact that the importer had already been warned about the late submission of paperwork is fatal to the importers arguments.
If you operate any duty-relief system it is your responsibility to ensure that paperwork arrives at HMRC within the stated time-limits. If for any reason you envisage any problems then you should always contact the relevant office at HMRC and explain the situation as soon as possible. More often than not a compromise will be found.

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