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UK: Customs Debt - Who has to pay?

It can be confusing as to who is liable for customs debt. We clarify when it is the importer and when the agent.



If you are the declarant but utilise an agent or representative to make a customs declaration on your behalf, depending on the kind of representation, they may be accountable.


In case of Direct Representation, the payer is ....

If an agent acts as a direct representative of the principal, the principal is the only one responsible for the customs debt. But if the principal gives clear instructions and the agent does something wrong on purpose or for no good reason, the agent could be held jointly and severally responsible. If the agent has permission for a customs operation (like inbound processing or a customs warehouse) under which the goods have been put, they will be responsible for any debt incurred if that operation wasn't done right or if they did something that caused items to be taken out of customs control without permission.


Sub-Contraction

If the agent wants to give work to a sub-agent, this must be written into the contract between the agent and the principal. If it doesn't, the sub-agent won't be able to work directly for the principal and will be fully responsible for any customs debt that comes up.


In case of Indirect Representation, the payer is...

If an agent makes a customs declaration on behalf of a principal in an indirect way, both the agent and the principal will be responsible for any customs debt. HMRC could ask the agent or the person who hired the agent to pay.


If an agent tells a sub-agent to make a customs declaration, both the sub-agent and the principal are responsible for any customs debt. If the sub-agent is the agent's employee, the agent may also be responsible.


Please review government guidance, here and download guidance:

Customs debt liability - GOV.UK
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Download PDF • 145KB

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