This article was published before we became the Chartered Institute of Export & International Trade on 10 July 2024, and this is reflected in references to our old brand and name. For more information about us becoming Chartered, visit our dedicated webpage on the change here.

Businesses are gradually growing in confidence regarding the introduction of the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), a webinar poll from the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) found yesterday (26 September).

Compared to the last time the IOE&IT ran a webinar on CDS in March, there was an uptick in the number of respondents stating they already used the new system, while a high proportion of delegates also said they feel prepared for its rollout.

Exporters will be required to migrate to the new system by 30 March 2024, as the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF), is decommissioned.

The webinar - featuring HMRC readiness, communications and guidance lead, Adam Gregory, and IOE&IT trade and customs specialist, Matt Vick - addressed updates to the CDS timeline and what traders need to know ahead of the transition.

Phased introduction

The CDS adoption has been rolled out in phases, with importers required to use the system since autumn 2022.

There are two stages of migration in place for exporters. In stage one, those completing a high volume of declarations will need to migrate by the earlier date of 30 November 2023.

According to Gregory, this threshold only applies to those completing over 10,000 declarations per year.

Stage two applies to all other exporters, with the 30 March 2024 deadline in force.

Slow progress

Despite CHIEF still being operational, 25% of respondents reported that they’ve already started using CDS for export declarations.

This figure is up from just 8% in March, when another webinar audience was polled on their use of CDS.

Only 16% respondents reported they self-file their export declarations, while 62% rely on a freight forwarder or customs agent of some variety.

Get ready

However, another poll reflected an increase in readiness, with almost two thirds of respondents voting that they felt ‘very prepared’ (9%) or ‘quite prepared’ (53%) for the migration.

This was another increase on March’s results when less than half felt so prepared.

To build confidence, Gregory encouraged businesses to subscribe to CDS as soon as possible, and also suggested using the Trader Dress Rehearsal service, a free tool allowing traders to practice submitting declarations.

On the technical side of the process, he recommended contacting software providers to learn how CDS can be merged with existing platforms.


In August HMRC announced the final March deadline by which traders needed to switch platforms, an extension of four months.

This was partially a response to businesses expressing concerns about meeting the former November deadline, but also a necessary measure to ensure HMRC could deliver new IT systems in time.

Gregory said the new deadline was chosen “to enable the right level of support to be in place”.

“The key point around moving that date and picking 30 March, is that we have listened and heard the challenges being faced by businesses.”

Firm deadline

Despite previous delays, Gregory said emphatically that 30 March 2024 is a concrete deadline for exporters.

Gregory said:

“We know that the period over Christmas, and parts of January, are peak trading times for some sectors in the industry and we didn’t want to isolate that area and target a mass migration.” 

Vick also warned traders not to get complacent, “unless specifically authorised” they should “consider it gone”.