Research into the customs intermediaries sector: Wave 1 summary report

This summary report presents the key findings from the Wave 1 survey conducted by Ipsos into the customs intermediaries sector, as well as the sizing exercise undertaken in partnership with Perspective Economics, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The author(s)

  • Katie Hughes Public Affairs
  • Kelly Maguire Public Affairs
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Ipsos was commissioned by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to conduct research to understand the size and characteristics of the customs intermediaries sector, focusing on those who currently make customs declarations on behalf of traders or those who intend to make declarations once full customs declarations are required on all EU trade.

The research aims to accurately estimate the size and capacity of the customs intermediary population and the sub-groups within it. The study builds on previous research designs to create a more robust sample frame and method for conducting surveys with this population. It seeks to better understand the population in terms of structure, characteristics, and the services that customs intermediaries provide for their customers and measure change in customs declaration capacity in response to Transition policies as part of 3 waves of surveys.

The survey responses aim to help HMRC better understand how customs intermediaries have responded to, or plan to respond to, EU Exit and the end of the transition period.

Key Findings

  • The sector currently completes an estimated 29-39 million customs declarations each year based on analysis from both the sizing exercise and survey responses.
  • It is estimated that the sector as a whole will complete between 90 and 135 million additional declarations, with 62% being completed by large and very large firms who make up just four per cent of the sector, once full customs declarations are required on all EU trade.
  • Eight in ten of the intermediaries surveyed (81%) currently completed customs declarations. One in four (25%) completed all of their declarations in-house, three in ten (29%) outsourced all their declarations and one in four (27%) did a mix of both. The remaining intermediaries (19%) did not currently complete customs declarations, but intended to or were considering doing so once customs declarations are required on all EU trade.
  • Nearly all customs intermediaries (94%) had taken at least one step to prepare for when full customs declarations are required on all EU trade. The most common steps were speaking to other logistics organisations (67%), checking whether customers are prepared (64%), measures to increase efficiency and productivity (58%) and exploring training on completing customs declarations (57%).
  • The most common barrier to preparing for when full customs declarations are required for all EU trade, mentioned by 46% of customs intermediaries, was lacking knowledge or uncertainty about customs declarations requirements. One in four (26%) said they did not face any barriers.


Technical details

  • This summary report provides a selection of the key findings from the Wave 1 survey. A more detailed report, combining all three waves, will be published after results from all three waves of this research have been completed and quality assured.
  • The Wave 1 survey took place between 29 June and 1 September 2020 (the survey was piloted with 97 customs intermediaries between 29 June and 13 July 2020) and consisted of 674 telephone interviews with customs intermediaries. In addition, 15 follow-up, qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted via telephone with customs intermediaries who had taken part in the survey.
  • Following the development of the final list of proposed customs intermediaries in the UK (which derived a final estimated population of c. 8,400 firms), Perspective Economics analysed the survey responses by size of firm, and applied these estimates to the wider population.


The author(s)

  • Katie Hughes Public Affairs
  • Kelly Maguire Public Affairs

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