Since the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, the arrangements for how the UK trades with the EU have changed. We are keen at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), working with colleagues in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and elsewhere, to keep users updated on the impact of changes to trade data collection on our trade statistics, and what steps we have taken to account for these impacts.
In our article, Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics: further update on Staged Customs Controls (SCC) published in July 2023, we analysed the impact of SCC on trade in goods data for imports from the EU to Great Britain (GB) in the first half of 2022.
To account for the impact of SCC, which led to some double counting, we have now applied a downward adjustment of £6.0 billion to our estimates of goods imports from the EU for the period January to June 2022. This adjustment has been applied to our UK trade release in line with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, with revised estimates incorporated into our GDP quarterly national accounts, UK: April to June 2023 and Balance of payments, UK: April to June 2023 releases published on 29 September 2023.
These revised estimates will also be included in our annual UK National Accounts, The Blue Book: 2023 and UK Balance of Payments, The Pink Book: 2023, which are due to be published on 31 October 2023.
This article summarises this adjustment to our estimates of goods imports from the EU in 2022, providing a breakdown by chapter type, country of dispatch and port of entry.Back to table of contents
In 2021, the use of Staged Customs Controls (SCC) allowed customs declarations to be reported up to 175 days after the date of import for imports of non-controlled goods from the EU to Great Britain (GB). Full customs controls for importing goods from the EU to Great Britain were introduced in January 2022, as such, July 2022 marked the first full month of data where delayed customs declarations submitted under SCC could not be included. However, SCC can continue to be used for imports to GB from Ireland.
Because of the change in trade data collection methods from the Intrastat Survey in 2021 to full customs declarations in 2022, use of SCC caused some double counting in UK trade statistics during 2022. This is because some imports in the second half of 2021 recorded through the Intrastat Survey also appeared on customs declarations in the first half of 2022.Back to table of contents
Working with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), we developed a methodology to identify potential instances of the use of Staged Customs Controls (SCC) by traders when making customs declarations during 2022. This methodology analyses the length of time between the acceptance date and clearance date on the returned customs declarations to identify potential cases of traders who may have used SCC to report 2021 trade in 2022.
Authorised traders have an allowance of up to around 37 days to submit all required information regarding their imports. However, during the period of temporary SCC, traders had the option of taking up to 175 days from the date of acceptance to make the supplementary declaration.
To identify potential cases of traders who may have used SCC to report 2021 trade in 2022, HMRC and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have examined imports from the EU to Great Britain (GB) with an acceptance date in 2021 and a clearance date in 2022, in which the difference in dates exceeded 40 days (the 37 days mentioned previously plus a short period of tolerance).
More detail on the method used to identify potential instances of the use of SCC by traders can be found in our article, Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics: further update on Staged Customs Controls.
We have worked with HMRC to collect evidence to check the robustness of the acceptance and clearance date analysis methodology. This work involved:
contacting traders identified under the dates analysis method, to check if they did use SCC, for what value and whether they had also reported that trade through the Intrastat Survey in 2021
analysing microdata to identify other traders displaying an unusual pattern of trade in 2022, and conducting investigations with them to check if this reflected use of SCC
contacting traders that were neither flagged by the dates analysis nor displayed unusual trade patterns in 2022, to check whether they utilised SCC
HMRC trade statistics verification officers and customer relations teams contacted and received confirmation from traders accounting for the majority of these imports by value. Where responses from traders were not received, supplementary analysis including a review of longer-term trends and a comparison against responses of traders exhibiting similar characteristics was used to determine the likelihood of SCC as identified from the dates analysis.
Our investigation flagged £6.5 billion of imports conducted in 2021 but submitted through customs declarations in 2022. Our methodology has concluded that £6.0 billion of imports were submitted using SCC; all of these delayed declarations were made in the first six months of 2022 (Figure 1), rather than later in the year. This represented 2% of total imports from the EU to GB in 2022, prior to the adjustments being implemented, or 4% during the first half of 2022.
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After concluding the investigation into the impact of the use of Staged Customs Controls (SCC) on goods imports from the EU, we have now implemented adjustments to our estimates of goods imports from the EU for the period January to June 2022. These adjustments account for the £6.0 billion of imports concluded to have used SCC, which resulted in double counting in UK trade statistics during 2022.
The revised series for imports of goods from the EU can be seen in Figure 2 after the £6.0 billion downward adjustment to account for the use of SCC has been implemented.
As this adjustment has been implemented in line with the National Accounts Revisions Policy, the data have been revised back to January 1997 and include other methodological improvements which have been made to the UK trade data (detailed in our UK trade: August 2023 bulletin).
The final revised series for imports of goods from the EU including both the SCC adjustment and other methodological improvements results in an overall £5.0 billion downward revision applied over the first six months of 2022 in non-seasonally adjusted terms. After seasonal adjustment, there is a £3.9 billion downward adjustment for the first six months of 2022.
Imports of machinery and transport equipment were most affected by the use of SCC, with £4.9 billion of imports of this commodity identified as using SCC (Table 1). In combination with other methodological improvements, this has resulted in an overall £4.0 billion downward revision in non-seasonally adjusted terms, which leads to a £3.2 billion downward adjustment after seasonal adjustment has been applied.
|Contribution to |
|Total revision |
|Total revision |
|SITC 0: Food |
and live animals
|SITC 1: Beverages |
|SITC 2: Crude materials||-12||26||53|
|SITC 3: Fuels||0||14||-358|
|SITC 4: Animal |
oils and fats
|SITC 5: Chemicals||-299||-140||108|
|SITC 6: Material |
|SITC 7: Machinery |
|SITC 8: Miscellaneous |
|SITC 9: |
Download this table Table 1: Machinery and transport equipment was the commodity with the highest revisions in value terms.xls .csv
Chapter 87 (vehicles other than railway or tramway) accounts for the majority (68.6%) of the £6.0 billion of imports confirmed as using Staged Customs Controls (SCC) when broken down by commodity chapters (Figure 3). Chapter 87 mainly consists of imports of motor cars and vehicles for transport of fewer than 10 people, parts and accessories for large vehicles, and motor vehicles for the transport of goods.
Our accompanying dataset provides the SCC adjustment by all chapters.
Country of dispatch
Imports of goods from Germany account for the majority (56.3%) of the £6.0 billion of imports confirmed as using SCC (Figure 4). Germany was the UK’s largest EU import partner in 2022; it is the primary supplier of cars, accounting for almost half of all car imports in 2022. Imports from Spain and France represent 9.7% and 8.9% of the total SCC adjustment, respectively.
Port of entry
English ports account for 99.5% of the £6.0 billion of trade in the SCC adjustment (Table 2). Dover, Grimsby, Medway, and London were the ports of entry within England which received the largest adjustments. As Northern Ireland imports from the EU continue to be collected through the Intrastat Survey, they were not affected by the use of SCC in customs declarations.
|Location of port of entry||Proportion of adjustment|
Download this table Table 2: English ports account for 99.5% of the £6.0 billion of trade in the SCC adjustment.xls .csv
Imports from the EU in 2022
After we have implemented adjustments to our estimates of goods imports from the EU, there continues to be a changed pattern relative to mirror statistics reported by Eurostat of EU exports to the UK throughout 2022 and into 2023. This is highlighted in our article, Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics: update on Staged Customs Controls. Historically, Eurostat and Office for National Statistics (ONS) trade data have never fully mirrored one another. So, although this continued observed difference is not definitive proof of a step change, it does require further investigation to understand if there are any other factors in data collection or trader behaviour that could be influencing this trend.
Imports from and exports to the EU pre-2021
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) implemented a data collection change affecting data on goods exports from Great Britain (GB) to the EU in January 2021, and data on goods imports from the EU to GB in January 2022. We have applied adjustments to our estimates of goods imports from the EU for 2021 to reflect this data collection change, which brought imports and exports statistics onto a like for like basis in 2021.
Users should note that the full time series for goods imports from and exports to the EU contains a discontinuity from January 2021, resulting from the move from Intrastat to customs declarations, as detailed in our Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics: adjustments to 2021 EU imports estimates article. Caution should be taken when interpreting these statistics.
We are exploring available data sources to assess whether it is possible to make similar adjustments for the period prior to 2021.Back to table of contents
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 12 October 2023, ONS website, article, Impact of trade in goods data collection changes on UK trade statistics: adjustments to 2022 EU imports estimates
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