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Customs debt, non recovery, repayment and remission

What is a customs debt, non-recovery, repayment or remission?

Customs debt

The term "customs debt" is defined in Art. 4 (9) of the Community Customs Code (CCC) : It means the obligation on a person to pay the amount of the import duties (customs debt on importation) or export duties (customs debt on exportation) which apply to specific goods under the Community provisions in force. Art. 20 (1) CCC clarifies that such duties are laid down in the Community Customs Tariff (CCT). A customs debt can therefore only be incurred in cases where the CCT lays down a duty for the goods concerned.

Normal case: acceptance of a declaration for release for free circulation

Where no duty exemption applies, the customs debt is incurred at the time when the customs declaration requesting release for free circulation is accepted (Art. 201 (2) CCC) .

The person liable for payment of the customs debt is the declarant, and - in the event of indirect representation (i.e. someone acting on his own name but on behalf of another person, Art. 5 (2) CCC) - also the person represented (Arts 201 (3) CCC).

Other cases:

a) Unlawful introduction into the customs territory

The customs debt is incurred at the time when the goods are unlawfully introduced (Art. 202 (2) CCC).

The debtors are (Arts 202 (3) CCC):

  • the person who introduced the goods,
  • the persons who knowingly either participated in this or acquired or held the goods.
b) Unlawful removal of goods subject to controls from customs supervision

The customs debt is incurred at the time when the goods are removed from customs supervision (Art. 203 (2) CCC).

The debtors are (Art. 203 (3) CCC):

  • the person who removed the goods from customs supervision,
  • the persons who knowingly either participated in this or acquired or held the goods,
  • and - where goods are placed in temporary storage or under a suspensive customs procedure or under the end-use provisions - the person responsible for fulfilling the obligations arising from the storage or the use of the procedure, such as the principal under transit or the holder of an authorisation for inward processing or end-use relief.
c) Non fulfilment of an obligation

Where an obligation has not been fulfilled, the customs debt is incurred at the time the failure was committed or the omitted action should have taken place at the latest (Art. 204 (2) CCC).

The debtor is the person who is required to fulfil the obligations or to comply with the conditions for placing the goods under the procedure (Art. 204 (3) CC).

d) Consumption, use or disappearance

In a control type I free zone or a free warehouse a customs debt on importation is incurred where non-Community or end-use goods are consumed, used or have disappeared (Art. 205 (1) CCC). The customs debt is incurred at the time when the goods are consumed or first used unlawfully.

The debtor is the person who consumed or used the goods as well as any person knowingly participating. Where no such person can be determined, the last person known to the customs authorities to have been in possession of the goods is liable for payment of the customs debt (Art. 205 (3) CCC).

General remark

Where several persons are liable for payment of one customs debt, they shall be jointly and severally liable for such debt (Art. 213 CCC).

Waiver from entry in the accounts

However, under certain conditions it is foreseen that the customs debt need not be entered in the accounts and therefore does not need to be recovered.

Under Article 220 (2) (b) of the CCC, the post-clearance entry of the import or export duties in the accounts is waived (non recovery) when four cumulative conditions are met:

  • the amount of duty was not entered in the accounts as a result of an error on the part of the customs authorities themselves;
  • this error could not reasonably have been detected by the person liable for payment;
  • the person liable for payment must have complied with all the provisions laid down by the legislation in force as regards the customs declaration;
  • the person liable for payment acted in good faith.


In case the customs debt has been communicated to the debtor, the amount of duties may be remitted or repaid under the following circumstances:

  • Under Article 236 CCC repayment or remission is granted in case the amount of duties was not legally owed or has been entered in the account contrary to Article 220 (2) CCC.
  • Under Article 237 CCC repayment is possible after invalidation of a customs declaration.
  • Under Article 238 CCC repayment is possible for imported goods rejected by the importer and subsequently exported.
  • In accordance with Article 239 CCC, import duties or export duties may be repaid or remitted in special situations other than those referred to in Articles 236, 237 and 238 resulting from circumstances in which no deception or obvious negligence may be attributed to the person concerned.

Non-recovery, repayment, remission of customs duties: Assessment of the new rules applicable from 1 August 2003

With effect from 1 August 2003 Regulation (EC) No 1335/2003 has raised the threshold value (500.000 EUR) up to which Member States are authorised to make decisions with regard to non-recovery and repayment or remission of customs duties. The possibility of obtaining a decision from the Commission in cases below this amount has been removed. At the same time further rules aimed at more efficient procedures were introduced. The articlepdf(96 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  posted on our website explains and appraises the new rules.

Information for Users


This paperpdf(240 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  simply describes the current case-law of the EC Court of Justice and the EC Court of First Instance and the most important decisions adopted by the Commission. Rather than detailing the approach followed in individual cases, it sets out the criteria on which decisions are reached.

Decisions of the Commission

A compilation of decisions taken by the Commission is available this website :

Impact of tariff classification regulations

This documentpdf(36 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  describes the impact of tariff classification regulations on the provisions of the Code governing repayment/remission and post-clearance recovery of duties.

Judgment "Beemsterboer"

Guidelinespdf(19 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  on the consequences of the Judgment of the Court of 9 March 2006 in Case C-293/04 "Beemsterboer"

Application of Commission Regulation (EC) No 634/2008

Commission working paperpdf(17 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  on the application of Commission Regulation (EC) No 634/2008 of 27 June 2008 laying down the reduced agricultural components and the additional duties applicable to imports into the Community of certain goods containing milk products covered by Council Regulation (EC) No 3448/93 from Switzerland (TAXUD/1708/2009).