What is a customs debt?
The term "customs debt" is defined in Art. 5 (18) of the Union Customs Code (UCC): It means the obligation on a person to pay the amount of import or export duty which applies to specific goods under the customs legislation in force. Art. 56 (1) UCC clarifies that such duties shall be based on the Common 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 (compliance)
Article 77 UCC (release for free circulation/temporary admission), article 78 UCC (non-originating goods), Article 81 UCC (export).
The customs debt is incurred at the time when the customs declaration (re-export declaration in case of Article 78) placing the goods under the customs procedure giving rise to a customs debt is accepted.
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. 18(1) UCC) - also the person represented (Art 77(3) UCC).
Other cases (non-compliance):
Article 79 UCC (import) and Article 82 UCC (export).
A customs debt on import shall be incurred through non-compliance with any of the following:
(a) one of the obligations laid down in the customs legislation concerning the introduction of non-Union goods into the customs territory of the Union, their removal from customs supervision, or the movement, processing, storage, temporary storage, temporary admission or disposal of such goods within that territory;
(b) one of the obligations laid down in the customs legislation concerning the end-use of goods within the customs territory of the Union;
In both situations, the debtor shall be any of the following:
(i) any person who was required to fulfil the obligations concerned;
(ii) any person who was aware or should reasonably have been aware that an obligation under the customs legislation was not fulfilled and who acted on behalf of the person who was obliged to fulfil the obligation, or who participated in the act which led to the non-fulfilment of the obligation;
(iii) any person who acquired or held the goods in question and who was aware or should reasonably have been aware at the time of acquiring or receiving the goods that an obligation under the customs legislation was not fulfilled.
(c) a condition governing the placing of non-Union goods under a customs procedure or the granting, by virtue of the end-use of the goods, of duty exemption or a reduced rate of import duty.
In this situation, the debtor shall be the person who is required to comply with the conditions governing the placing of the goods under a customs procedure or the customs declaration of the goods placed under that customs procedure or the granting of a duty exemption or reduced rate of import duty by virtue of the end-use of the goods. Where a customs declaration in respect of one of these customs procedures is drawn up, and any information required under the customs legislation relating to the conditions governing the placing of the goods under that customs procedure is given to the customs authorities, which leads to all or part of the import duty not being collected, the person who provided the information required to draw up the customs declaration and who knew, or who ought reasonably to have known, that such information was false shall also be a debtor.
The time at which the customs debt is incurred shall be either of the following:
(a) the moment when the obligation the non-fulfilment of which gives rise to the customs debt is not met or ceases to be met;
(b) the moment when a customs declaration is accepted for the placing of goods under a customs procedure where it is established subsequently that a condition governing the placing of the goods under that procedure or the granting of a duty exemption or a reduced rate of import duty by virtue of the end-use of the goods was not in fact fulfilled.
Where several persons are liable for payment of one customs debt, they shall be jointly and severally liable for that amount (Art. 84 UCC).
Determination of the amount payable, notification and entry in the accounts
The sequence follows the order of the relevant articles in the UCC. First customs authorities determine the amount payable, then they notify the customs debt to the debtor and then they enter the relevant amount in the accounts.
The determination of the amount of import/export duties will continue to be conducted by customs authorities responsible for the place where the customs debt is incurred or is deemed to have been incurred (Article 101 (1) UCC).Without prejudice to subsequent monitoring, customs authorities may accept the amount of import/export duty payable determined by the declarant (Article 101 (2) UCC).
Customs authorities need not enter in the accounts amounts which correspond to a customs debt which could no longer be notified to the debtor because of the limitation period foreseen for such notification under Article 103 UCC.
Furthermore, customs authorities need not enter in the accounts the amounts for which no notification was made for any of the following reasons (Article 102 (1) UCC):
(a) where, pending a final determination of the amount of import or export duty, a provisional commercial policy measure taking the form of a duty has been imposed;
(b) where the amount of import or export duty payable exceeds that determined on the basis of a decision made in accordance with Article 33;
(c) where the original decision not to notify the customs debt or to notify it with an amount of import or export duty at a figure less than the amount of import or export duty payable was taken on the basis of general provisions invalidated at a later date by a court decision;
(d) where the customs authorities are exempted under the customs legislation from notification of the customs debt.
In the Delegated Regulation 2015/2446 you can find the situations where customs authorities are exempted from such notification.
Exemption from notification of the customs debt (Art. 88 Delegated Regulation 2015/2446)
1. The customs authorities may refrain from notifying a customs debt incurred through non-compliance under Article 79 or 82 of the Code where the amount of import or export duty concerned is less than EUR 10.
2. Where the customs debt was initially notified with an amount of import or export duty which was less than the amount of import or export duty payable, the customs authorities may refrain from notifying the customs debt for the difference between those amounts provided that it is less than EUR 10.
3. The limitation of EUR 10 referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 shall apply to each recovery action.
Subject to certain conditions amounts of import or export duty can be repaid or remitted on any of the following grounds (Art 116(1) UCC):
(a) overcharged amounts of import or export duty (Article 117 UCC);
(b) defective goods or goods not complying with the terms of the contract (Article 118 UCC);
(c) error by the competent authorities (Article 119 UCC);
(d) equity (Article 120 UCC).
Where an amount of import or export duty has been paid and the corresponding customs declaration is invalidated in accordance with Article 174 UCC, that amount shall be repaid.
For information purposes you may find hereunder some historical information, which will be no longer fully applicable as of 1 May 2016 after the entry into force of the UCC, but which might however contain valuable information
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 article posted here explains and appraises the new rules.
Information for Users
This paper 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 document describes the impact of tariff classification regulations on the provisions of the Code governing repayment/remission and post-clearance recovery of duties.
Guidelines on the consequences of the Judgment of the Court of 9 March 2006 in Case C-293/04 "Beemsterboer"