Skip to main content

Published 2 August 2012


The Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system records the movement of goods by land, air and sea. It allows importers, exporters and freight forwarders to complete customs formalities electronically and automatically checks for entry errors. You can sign up to CHIEF via the Government Gateway for the National Export System (NES), or you can contact a Community System Provider for access to CHIEF. CHIEF includes NES functionality, which is used to declare exports to countries outside the European Union. If you register with our site you will automatically get a Government Gateway account.

This guide provides an overview of what the CHIEF system is used for, how to use it, what to do if you have trouble gaining access to it and how to keep up to date with changes to the system. It also summarises the auditing benefits of subscribing to the Management Support System - an interfacing database with the CHIEF system.

How the CHIEF system expedites imports and exports

Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) is HMRC’s nationwide computer system for the electronic control and reporting of all the UK’s international cargo movements.

You will need to make import and export declarations to CHIEF. However, although exports are processed through the CHIEF system, the inland and frontier clearance facilities are under the control of the National Export System (NES), which works alongside CHIEF

Which services does CHIEF provide?

CHIEF enables traders to:

  • electronically process imports and exports
  • communicate electronically with HMRC
  • validate the accuracy of data as it is being keyed in
  • calculate duties, currency and quantity conversions 
  • record, monitor and account for duties and taxes on imports as they are incurred

If you make indirect exports via another European Union (EU) member state to a third country, you will need to register for and use the Export Control System (ECS), which is also accessible via and under the control of CHIEF. The ECS harmonises export management, including safety and security procedures, in the EU

Authorised traders and export declarations

You can make a full electronic export declaration directly into NES. This will need to include data on the origin of the goods, the country to which the goods are being sent, commodity codes, Customs Procedure Codes and values. The most important piece of information is the Unique Consignment Reference. Safety and Security information must also be supplied within the export declaration.

Simplified customs declarations - if you are authorised to use either the local clearance procedure or simplified declaration procedure, you must make your abbreviated declaration under NES into the central CHIEF system and then submit the final details within 14 days of shipment.

Exporters may choose from Email, Web, XML, CSP or Customs Input to make their declarations.

CHIEF facilitates the faster, safer flow of goods into and out of the UK

CHIEF connects with six independent trade systems, which directly serve hundreds of carriers, transit sheds and freight forwarders to record and track the movement of goods within ports and airports, enabling them to operate more efficiently.

CHIEF is also part of HMRC’s risk assessment process and as such identifies which consignments or which goods within a consignment will need to be physically examined or their documentation examined. This gives legitimate goods and those deemed to be a low-level risk faster passage when they are directly imported from third countries or directly exported to them from the UK.

As a result, importers, exporters and freight forwarders should generally be able to complete all necessary customs formalities with the minimum of manual intervention.

How to gain access to CHIEF

Traders can access the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system via a variety of methods.

They are:

  • Community System Provider (CSP). CSPs are Customs-approved third party service providers offering trader access to inventory controlled ports around the UK.
  • Other password protected electronic routes - including web form, email and XML.
  • Customs do permit the submission of manually completed customs declarations. Completed hard copy declarations should be submitted to HMRC Customs Input of Entry (CIE) Seat in Salford.

Facilities also exist to allow traders to input data direct to CHIEF. These facilities are available at Entry Processing Units sites with Direct Trader Input (DTI) links. A list of DTI locations is included in the Tariff, appendix C2A.

The CHIEF computer is normally available to DTI users 24 hours a day.

How to send National Export System information to CHIEF via the internet

For the National Export System (NES), traders can choose to send customs declarations to Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system electronically. It’s simple to send this information via the HMRC website. This method is suitable for you if you’re prepared to key in the data manually.

You’ll need:

  • an internet connection
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (version 5 or above)
  • an email address
  • a CHIEF ‘role’ - if you have applied to use NES simplified procedures, you can get details of this from your local HMRC officer - in all other circumstances, you can get a role directly from the HMRC CHIEF Operations Team

A digital certificate is no longer required for web access, although you can still obtain a digital certificate if you wish to. You can now access the system using the login and password facility on the HMRC website.

You can also try out the CHIEF test service. You will need to contact CHIEF Operations at for a NES role and location. Log in to the CHIEF test service by connecting to the welcome screen on the HMRC website.

You can log in to the live CHIEF system by connecting to the welcome screen on the HMRC website.

Log in using a digital certificate

At the welcome screen, you need to:

  • click the login button
  • ignore the request for password and login ID
  • confirm that you want to log in with a digital certificate
  • once the status bar says ‘done’, click confirm
  • choose the CHIEF service you need
  • once you see the CHIEF command screen, start to key in your data

Log in without using a digital certificate

At the welcome screen, you need to:

  • click the login button
  • complete the Login ID/Password field
  • click the HMRC service selection (New Export System (NES) service)
  • select the CHIEF/NES role, then select the Live or Training service
  • once you see the CHIEF command screen, start to key in your data

If you require any help completing the PA7 access form, then contact CHIEF Operations at For any other NES related problem, please contact the NES Helpline on Tel 029 2032 6371.

How to use CHIEF efficiently

The Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system connects with six independent trade systems which directly serve hundreds of carriers, transit sheds and freight forwarders to record and track the movement of goods within ports and airports. Using Electronic Data Interchange inter-system messages, CHIEF checks that the data on the customs declaration matches the inventory maintained on each trade system.

All these systems notify CHIEF as soon as goods arrive. CHIEF performs certain checks against data held on the inventory system as part of the custom declaration, validation and clearance processes. Despite the fact that the independent trade systems are all based on different technologies, CHIEF handles each interface seamlessly.

CHIEF has high-speed communications links to Community System Providers (CSPs). CSPs are commercial entities that directly interface with HMRC frontier systems including CHIEF.

As their name suggests, CSPs provide community network services to specific port/airport communities of which HMRC or UK Border Agency form a part, along with other government agencies and commercial logistics entities such freight forwarders, shipping lines, temporary storage facility operators and haulage companies.

The six CSPs are:

  • CNS (Community Network Services)
  • MCP (Maritime Cargo Processing)
  • CCS-UK (Cargo Community System)
  • DHL
  • DHB Group
  • Pentant Limited

The CHIEF system is supported by detailed guides for trade users and the more technically minded, which address technical questions you may have on CHIEF functionality. You can find CHIEF trade user guides on the HMRC website.

If you connect to CHIEF via Direct Trader Input (DTI), you can refer to the documentation that has been provided by either your software package supplier or the CSP in question. Find a list of providers of commercial DTI links to CHIEF on the HMRC website.

One of the benefits of using CHIEF is that it performs primary and secondary validation checks on your declaration data before system acceptance. The user will be alerted to an error message in the form of an error response code. Find guidance on the CHIEF error codes with accompanying explanations and solutions on the HMRC website. You may, however, sometimes receive an error response that doesn’t include a solution to the problem. If this is the case, email the error code to the CHIEF Operations Team at

If you choose to use the National Export System (NES) web declaration service provided through the Government Gateway, you have the opportunity to manage your account details, make any amendments, or view a summary of all your CHIEF reports online, using access to CHIEF via the NES web route. Log in to the live CHIEF system by connecting to the HMRC welcome screen on the HMRC website.

Fallback options if CHIEF is unavailable

There may be occasions where the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) computer and/or the local computerised inventory control system is not available. The procedures which will be introduced in these circumstances are known as ‘fallback’.

Fallback procedures may involve manual processing of declarations and/or other documents by HMRC.

There are two types of fallback procedures, short term (system not available for up to 24 hours), and a long term (system not available for over 24 hours). Short term procedures allow for the manual clearance of goods during fallback but require that the declaration information is later keyed into the computer system. Long term procedures do not require the declaration information to be keyed in.

If you can’t get access to the CHIEF system using the National Export System (NES), try one of the other available routes under the NES. You may already have an arrangement with a fallback partner, such as a customs agent using a Community System Provider (CSP). They can make the customs declarations on your behalf. Find a list of CSPs on the HMRC website. However, some traders may be unable to use an alternative route and may have to rely on HMRC’s fallback plans.

When connectivity is only out for a short period, fallback measures will not necessarily be invoked. But traders may, when directed, use the following fallback procedure.

Once it is confirmed that some of the available routes into CHIEF have been down for at least half a working day and are expected to be unavailable for the foreseeable future, HMRC will invoke one of two fallback plans to enable entry procedures for users of the affected access route only.

You can check the status of NES and other electronic systems on the service availability page on the HMRC website.

CSP system local fallback forms - CCS-UK

In the event of sustained CHIEF unavailability and as part of local customs fallback procedures at London Heathrow Airport, users should use one of the CCS-UK user fallback forms, which any CCS-UK CHIEF user can submit through the Heathrow Entry Processing Unit (EPU).

You can find CCS-UK user fallback forms on the HMRC website.

You can find details of the fallback plans within Volume Three of the Integrated Tariff of the UK (the Tariff), or you can call the NES Helpline on Tel 029 2032 6371 or the HMRC Excise & Customs Helpline on Tel 0845 010 9000.

You need to complete three forms under fallback procedures, including:

  • If you’re not authorised for simplified procedures, you must complete all the required boxes on form C88/ESS (Export Security Single Administrative Document) as a full export declaration. However, if you’re authorised for the Simplified Declaration Procedure or Local Control Procedures, you can submit partially completed C88/ESSs as Pre-Shipment Advices. This is initial data which must be followed by a full supplementary customs declaration up to two weeks after the goods have left the UK.
  • The C88/ESS must be supported with a form C1402 stating that you’ll send the SAD declaration electronically once CHIEF is in operation again. Find form C1402 on the HMRC website.
  • Finally, you must complete form C130EX for authentication by customs to indicate that the goods have permission to progress. Find form C130EX on the HMRC website.

All these forms must be headed “Fallback” in red ink. You must keep copies of all forms that you fill in under the fallback procedures.

Using the Management Support System

The Management Support System (MSS) is an interfacing database with the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. It contains archive data for all cleared customs declarations for import and export, offering importers and exporters opportunity to purchase a subscription or one-off report to keep accurate records of their consignments.

A purchased MSS subscription or report provides proof of sending the data to customs. This is useful for audits, and also cuts down on administration - for example, the system contains the total amount of duty paid against the value of goods entered for imports. You can find frequently asked questions on MSS data to the trade on the HMRC website.

Reports available from MSS are:

  • Sample reports - a single sample of one month’s recent import and export data will be made available to prospective customers to enable them to assess whether or not subscription to the scheme will be of benefit to them. This information can only be provided by means of a written request on business-headed paper from a responsible person of the business, for example sole proprietor, partner or director. You can find frequently asked questions on MSS data to the trade on the HMRC website.
  • Standard reports - four standard reports are available covering import item, import entry, import tax lines and export item data. For a single standard report a charge of £180 per annum plus VAT for each type of report required.
  • Customised reports - these cost £360 per report plus VAT and you can request additional data items or historical data. However, not all data items available on MSS are available for purchase in reports. HMRC reserves the right not to provide certain confidential information.

MSS sends the information via email. The normal format for electronic delivery will be a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

You can fill in a sales agreement for MSS reports on the HMRC website.

For any enquiries about MSS, you should email the MSS team at

Further Information

CSP contact details on the HMRC website

Enrol for the National Export System on the Government Gateway website

NES online web form facility on the HMRC website

Live CHIEF system log in through the HMRC welcome screen on the HMRC website

CHIEF trade user guides on the HMRC website

How fallback measures apply to your business on the HMRC website

NES information on the HMRC website

CHIEF information on the HMRC website