UK says importers making ‘deliberate errors’ on forms to avoid Brexit border charges

<span>Border checks can cause delays that threaten the shelf life of perishable goods such as fresh fruit and veg.</span><span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Border checks can cause delays that threaten the shelf life of perishable goods such as fresh fruit and veg.Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The government has accused businesses importing goods from the EU of making “deliberate” and “criminal” errors on key documentation in a bid to avoid new Brexit border charges.

In a notice sent out to traders this week, the government said it had been made aware that some traders and logistics companies were repeatedly filling out forms incorrectly, and vowed to crack down on the behaviour. It comes just weeks after the government brought in new checks for plant and animal goods coming into Britain from the EU.

The new rules, which took effect on 30 April, require certain products to be checked at border posts across the country, with importers charged at varying rates depending on the type of product they bring in.

However, the government has said that some businesses are failing to adhere to the rules and are making “continuous and/or deliberate” errors, seemingly to avoid checks and additional import costs.

The notice said deliberate misdeclarations on forms were a criminal offence and port health authorities would be actively looking for such behaviour and taking action if evidence is found.

Under the new border rules, products are categorised as low, medium or high risk. Low-risk products require no checks at all, medium-risk products receive some checks, and high-risk goods even more.

The checks can take several hours and are subject to a number of delays, which can threaten the shelf life of some perishable products or mean missing customer delivery times.

The notice sent out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said some companies were regularly declaring goods as low risk when they were medium, while high-risk products were being put down as medium. There was also a problem with importers not including export health certificates with meat and dairy products and phytosanitary certificates for plants.

Defra added that it was also aware of importers trying to include multiple export health certificates on common health entry documents, when regulations state there should be only one. Firms could save money by doing this, as importers pay up to £145 for each entry document.

In April the Guardian reported on widespread criticism from European hauliers about the lack of clarity over the government’s charging system, complaining that it could increase transport costs by up to 60%. Since the checks came in at the end of April they have been beset by problems due to repeated failures of IT systems and other issues.

Last month the Guardian reported that lorries carrying perishable goods were held up for 20 hours at the government-run Sevington border post in Ashford, Kent after outages caused one of the main IT systems to fail.