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Cross Border Channel Shoppers Protest Campaign – Action for Casualties of Customs European Shoppers Seizures. HM Revenue and Customs responses.

How have the Government and HM Revenue and Customs responded to public pressure?

British experiences with UKBA / HMRC

Badly we are sorry to report. From the disgraceful press releases and TV appearances of Ministers to actual behaviour at the ports, little appears to have changed despite Court decisions.

Despite the famous Hoverspeed Court victory, much still needs to be done before British citizens enjoy the same rights in Europe as the French, Germans etc. Whilst as foreigners we are free in mainland Europe, we are not sadly when leaving our home country, or on our return to it. This campaign is about putting right that wrong.

This page is dedicated to providing any contact or link which may prove useful in your own personal fight against C and E intimidation and tactics.

Unfortunately HM Revenue and Customs, whilst talking about tackling the Mafia, are spending more time and money criminalising ordinary citizens. Prominent notices on the ferries and at Eurotunnel tell you can buy as much as you like as long as it is for personal consumption. Sadly, the normal British rules of fair play do not operate with British C and E, who can decide your guilt and confiscate your goods and car without any proof whatsoever.

Remember – as European shoppers you are GUILTY until you prove you are innocent (effectively impossible to do!).

What to do if you are bullied or have your car or shopping confiscated

From the latest C and E leaflet

WHAT HAPPENS IF I TRY TO BRING IN TOBACCO OR ALCOHOL WHICH IS NOT FOR MY OWN USE? Those goods will be liable to seizure as will any vehicle used to bring them into the United Kingdom You could also face a fine of up to £5,000 for possessing unmarked tobacco and up to seven years imprisonment on conviction of a smuggling offence.


Don't Smuggle! – tempting though it may be to bring back more than your allowance to sell and make a bit a of money, you are breaking the law. Sadly the way the guidelines are enforced are distinctly unfair.

Had a response from HM Customs? Send us a copy please.

HELP! – if you have any comments or tips that will help advance the cause of channel shopping, please contact us

From a shopper – what you can expect at our ports.

"I went on my first ever daytrip to France yesterday with my one and only new passport. On the way out we were stopped. Both the coach and people searched by sniffer dog. We then got back on and got stopped again. Then me and five others were taken off and searched. On the way back we were pulled in again. I was questioned in a room on my own but released. Three others had goods taken, and they were not over the guidelines. Makes me afraid to go anywhere again."

The information contained within this web site is intended to act as a general guide only, and does not form any offer or legal contract, whether actual or implied.

Customs and VAT matters are complex, and you should seek practical advice and assistance from a professional source rather than rely on the contents of this web site.

HM Revenue and Customs

Smugglers Museum – find out about REAL smugglers.

Museum of Smuggling History, Botanic Gardens, The Undercliffe Drive, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1UL.

Tel: 01983 853 677.

Situated in the Botanic gardens the museum is underground in extensive vaults, and shows methods of smuggling used over a 700-year period right up to the present day.

Admission times; Easter – September, daily 10.00am – 5.00pm. Adults £2.20, Concessions £1.10. Parties by arrangement.

How C and E are abusing the recommended E.U. guidelines

There is much debate about what European citizens can bring back legally from other European countries. The E.U. has set down guidelines (NOT LAWS) for member states with regard to acceptable quantities for cross border purchases before questions can be asked about use. British Revenue and Customs had interpreted these guidelines which set MINIMUM limits only, as being a LEGAL MAXIMUM, and are enforcing this presumed law accordingly. They even went as far as suggesting these were imposed by Brussels and couldn't be changed. These limits were set incidentally, not as a recommended maximum, but to stop countries imposing unfairly LOW limits which go against the spirit of free trade between the E.U. member states. Suddenly, after our campaigning, adverse press coverage and interest from the E.U. Commissioner, they have upped the guidance levels. Presumably they have forgotten what they use to tell us – who one asks, is lying?

Whilst there are ways of appealing, the way the system operates is extremely disruptive. Magistrates believe everything a Customs Officer tells them and accept the guideline as a maximum. You may go to extreme lengths to get your car back but would you do it for 2,000 cigarettes if you live in Hull for example?

Every country need a Customs and Excise to catch drug smugglers and big time crooks – we know that the current campaign is targeting ordinary citizens, intimidating them, and flagrantly going against the spirit of free trade and movement of goods our association with the European Union involves.

Apparently 80% of smuggled cigarettes comes in via container, and the detection rate for tobacco coming in by foot/car is about 3% of the remaining 20%. The aim is to detect 10%, which means for all the money spent and irritation caused, just 2% of smuggled tobacco will be detected. Why the Government should tackle shoppers with relatively small amounts is a complete mystery. Smugglers in the know change tactics when facing a problem – they do use cars through Dover for example, largely moving on foot (no car confiscation even if caught). The law is being brought into disrepute – can anyone seriously suggest that a mugger, thief, fraudster should be treated more leniently? – yet they rarely go to prison, they keep their cars, and when they get out, even get the fare back home. HM Revenue and Customs, who one would normally associate with the Ambulance service and the Police force are now viewed with open contempt. More seriously many people now feel too intimidated to travel freely. Reminds one of The Peoples Republic of East Germany.

Channel shoppers risk losing their cars, even for a first offence, are denied the right to a solicitor when being interviewed, get left to find their own way home if their cars are confiscated, have their cars and goods sold or destroyed even before their appeal is heard and are assumed to be guilty even without any evidence.

Changes to the law following the Hoverspeed judgement.

The Excise Goods, Beer and Tobacco Products (Amendment) Regulations 2002. Statutory Instrument 2002 No. 2692.

A Stupid Campaign

I personally have always found Customs and Excise to be the most intelligent and well trained arm of Government. Great – if it's being used to protect the ordinary law abiding citizen and catch drug smugglers, child pornographers, illegal immigrant smugglers etc., BAD and worrying if its not. Given that tobacco taxes are so high in the United Kingdom it's clear why shopping abroad has become such a popular activity. As with drug smuggling however, it misses the point if it prosecutes the user when the real criminals – the big boys behind the scene – hardly ever get caught. But then again, if hundreds of Customs Officers are concentrating on individual shoppers, is that surprising? Imagine how much contraband they would seize if hundreds of officers were concentrating on the big boys? Furthermore a campaign based on reaching targets means that at certain times, shoppers can be ruthlessly targeted, whilst almost ignored at other times. Soft targets are easy to catch – the real smugglers know their rights and what to say and do.

The fact that the United Kingdom drinks 20% of all the beer consumed in the EU, yet pays 51% of all the tax says everything.

Yes, the unemployed are used to go across and come back with bags full of tobacco for Mafia types to re-sell. What do you expect when the profits are so huge? Until taxes are lowered it will always happen. Stop the unemployed at Dover and no doubt it will start coming through elsewhere. After all, if the needs of Britons smokers can be met by just 7 container loads a day, why worry about a few individuals with holdalls?

Above all, it discriminates against ordinary people. A rich person can buy a smart car in Germany and sell it for a huge profit in England (even if he has to wait a few months). A businessman travelling to the continent every week can legitimately come back with a considerable amount of tobacco over the course of a year. Yet a pensioner travelling twice a year, bringing back a very small amount of tobacco can have it all confiscated.

A large number of people have been affected by this campaign. Are we to assume that as a nation we are generally criminals or assumed to be?

Why the crackdown is wrong

Because it affects legitimate travellers and offends them. It discriminates against smokers (why should. I as a wine drinker be allowed a limit 6 times higher?). It goes against the spirit of free trade which we are treaty bound to promote. It discriminates against people from the North of England who cannot pop across frequently because they live in Kent or nearby. It discriminates against old people who make a trip every so often to buy cheaper wine and tobacco. If. I smoked. I could legitimately come back with cigarettes every week. Yet a pensioner doing the trip once a year can have the lot confiscated if she has 1,000 cigarettes (on the ground that as she is on state benefits she cannot afford to travel!). This is clearly wrong and plain silly – of course poorer people will shop where its cheapest – hence our campaign. So whether you are a smoker or not, if you relish the joy of free travel and the benefits of shopping abroad, please support our campaign.

The real smugglers do not take their own cars across and risk losing them. It's mostly people who have exceeded the low tobacco limits, with goods for their own use, and who tell the truth, who get caught. Confiscation of your car for a relatively minor infringement of a guideline that is not even law, seems wrong. After all, muggers get probation and suffer no financial loss – are people bringing back a reasonable amount of tobacco for their own use really that much worse? C and E get the best of both worlds – civil law allows them to assume your guilt on the balance of probability, yet the punishments they inflict are worst than criminals going through the criminal justice system. No wonder the British legal system is being brought into disrepute.

Real smugglers go across on foot and risk getting through. It says something awful about our high taxes, that even when smugglers get caught, they come back and try again. It says something even worse about the fairness of this crackdown, that the smugglers only lose the tobacco they smuggle and not their cars.

What happens if you are stopped in a car?

Whilst the professional smugglers walk through as foot passengers losing only their stock and facing no penalties or personal losses if caught, car drivers are asked a whole host of very intrusive questions and risk losing their cars simply by being honest (by refusing to accept that in a modern society an arm of Government can behave as British C and E do). Forget any belief that we are part of the E.U. and have the right to shop freely in other E.U. countries. If C and E decided you may be smuggling you would usually be presented with a Form 1 which is a warning that you are being watched. We are not sure if the new rules announced October 29th will in fact change anything. We suspect not. Even if you are allowed to go (because you think you have persuaded them your goods are for personal use) don't think it stops there – you may well get a knock on the door and a house search – yes, this is Great Britain 2002, not Nazi Germany 1939 or some communist state (forget about Governments tackling large scale fraud, smuggling operations etc. – it's little you they are after!). If you get caught again you will probably, even if slightly over the limits, have your car confiscated. Increasingly people are being clobbered on their first journeys abroad. This applies disproportionately to people from Wales, the South West and the North of England. People who work abroad and return to this country are having their vehicles confiscated if found with any amount of tobacco, because as regular travellers they must, in the eyes of HM C and E be smugglers. Despite the recent changes to the guidelines, we have no evidence to suggest this attitude will change.

It doesn't pay to be honest either – lie like hell and you will get off (e.g. I smoke 50 a day, or. I bought them as a present for my son / daughter), rather than be honest (e.g. I actually smoke 15 a day, and my daughter asked me to buy some for her – she gave me the money).

If your car is seized you will get given a SEE004C – Seizure of Vehicle, and a C156 Seizure Notice. Whilst you can appeal, the system is deliberately set up to frustrate you, and C and E will appeal all the time so as to waste your money and time. New rules suggest you may be offered the chance to pay a fine equal to the value of the duty evaded. In reality this will mean the value of the goods in the United Kingdom. Also it is unlikely you will be allowed to keep the goods as well.

Furthermore, British C and E hold you in such contempt, that they will even sell your car before your appeal is heard. Innocent until proven guilty? Forget it as far as HM Revenue and Customs are concerned. Remember they do not have the law on their side, hence the "Maximum Disruption" Campaign C and E are running. Magistrates, who should be protecting the public's rights, are so clearly in the pockets of C and E, it is tempting to ask if they ever think.

The web masters view

I do not smoke, and I never come back with tobacco of any kind. I have never come back with a quantity of alcohol anywhere near the limits. I do not smuggle or break the law. I like to think. I lead a moral life (I am a Humanist). I am a European and enjoy the benefits of easier travel and shopping in other European countries.

I enjoy being able to drive across Europe without being stopped and even visit a non E.U. country (usually the Czech Republic, which. I visit frequently on business) and not be asked any questions. I resent bitterly, coming back to my home country and being stopped, asked where. I have been and why, when I went, what. I have been doing and for what purpose. I resent it being assumed that, I may be a smuggler simply because I travel frequently. I have had a dog go over my car). I resent reading about Eurotunnel delays because of people in the tunnel, and seeing the scale of the drugs problem locally. Perhaps it is time for C and E to wake up to the fact that many Britons travel abroad on business, successfully representing their countries abroad to the financial benefit of their home country and fellow citizens. Is it really necessary to presume they are smugglers and criminals and go as far as actually imposing draconian punishments without any evidence?

The civil liberties aspect worries me greatly too. Not only are the movements of travelling citizens being monitored very closely and stored (who else can use them?), but details of departing (legitimate) travellers are being taken too. I was once stopped for exceeding the 20 m.p.h. speed limit at Dover in an area where it is not possible to exceed 20 m.p.h. (by officers without a radar gun). This would be fine if the people stopping me were Dover Port Authority Officers or Policeman – but they were Customs Officers, and one of them quietly made a note of my number. Surely the only people they should be monitoring are those who smuggle and for whom they have reason to suspect – this should not include people on business, channel shoppers or holidaymakers. But it does. We hear that C and E Officers are often at Adinkerke in Belgium and in France taking details – if this is true then it should concern us all. We know they travel on the ferries observing shoppers.

C and E News Release 72/02

Crackdown on tobacco and alcohol smugglers continues

The High Court today upheld the right of Customs and Excise to protect the public purse and honest business from smugglers although it has also made a number of rulings affecting Customs procedures and their consistency with E.U. law.

This is the effect of the Judgement in the case of Commissioners of Customs and Excise v Hoverspeed Ltd. given this morning

John Healey, Economic Secretary to the Treasury said:

"The Court has backed the fundamentals of the United Kingdoms approach to tackling excise smuggling. The Court has confirmed that it is not legal to bring back alcohol and tobacco other than for your own use without payment of United Kingdom duties and those who try to smuggle such goods for profit can properly expect to have their goods and vehicles seized

"The Court has also confirmed that those who bring back large quantities of alcohol and tobacco must accept an evidential burden to provide a satisfactory explanation the absence of which may well cause Customs to conclude that they are not for own use but held for a commercial purpose

"This is a complex and technically detailed judgement. Although we welcome many aspects of it, the Court has found against Customs on a number of technical points. These are now being carefully considered and some aspects may be appealed

"Customs and Excise have today reminded travellers that their crackdown is focused on smugglers. Cigarette, tobacco and alcohol smugglers cost taxpayers £9 million a day, threaten the livelihood of small shopkeepers and have been caught selling their goods to children."

Genuine cross-channel shoppers should remember

* you may bring back as much alcohol and tobacco from the E.U. as you like for your own use;

* you cannot bring back alcohol and tobacco for any form of resale without payment of United Kingdom taxes, if you attempt to evade duty in this way those goods and your vehicle are liable to seizure;

* if you bring back large quantities of alcohol or tobacco exceeding indicative levels you may be asked by Customs to provide satisfactory explanation as to how they are for your own personal use. If you cannot give a satisfactory explanation Customs may reasonably conclude they are not for personal use and they together with your vehicle could be liable to seizure.

* If you are thinking of bring back large quantities of alcohol and tobacco from your holiday check with Customs before you leave what rules and quantities apply to your holiday destination

Customs and Excise has taken considerable steps to ensure shoppers are aware of the rules. These include: posters at the ports and reminders sent out with car tax reminders. Most recently a new leaflet was made available to travellers at ports and airports. Copies of the leaflets Shopping across the channel (PDF 70 KB) and Flying Abroad (PDF 138 KB) are also available on the Customs and Excise Internet Site. Issued by HM Customs and Excise Communications Division

If using specific facts contained in this release please check the information is still current

How the publicity from HM C and E has changed over the years.

HMRC customs poster

HMRC customs poster

HMRC customs poster

The attitude of the cross channel companies

We remain appalled at the attitude of the major cross channel companies. With the exception of Hoverspeed not one has supported their customers despite many requests for assistance (neither did they refund your money when they were confiscated). Prominent signs encouraging shoppers to buy more as well as tempting special offers, have contributed to the distress of shoppers. Whilst some have made reference to "buy as much as you like as long as it is for personal use" these warnings were generally in small print at the bottom of the posters or literature concerned. Eurotunnel, for some time, even had a large poster on their ticket booth encouraging shoppers to buy tobacco and alcohol BUT WITHOUT ANY WARNING.

Cross channel companies have a duty of care for their passengers. In a competitive age they need to make money from their customers. But, as a recent survey showed (Xmas – Eurotunnel) prices marked as special etc. are still 8 – 10% more than those in Calais shops and supermarkets. It is worth noting that no company apart from Hoverspeed has been in contact with us. Eurotunnel even dismissively refused a single free fare to the Editor saying "Eurotunnel would not give you a free ticket".

We condemn the cross Channel companies who encourage you to buy large quantities of Alcohol and Tobacco

(big packs for example) without warning you of the very real danger of confiscation of all your goods and vehicle. Eurotunnel, where Customs and Excise are particularly intimidating, don't even have the usual small print saying " as long as it is for personal use", even having a sign by the checking in booth saying " no limits on any purchase". NOT RESPONSIBLE!

Photograph of sign before ticket booth in Folkestone

No limits eurotunnel

10/10 to P and O Ferries though who have produced a leaflet in response to customer complaints, indicating that it is easy to be caught out by C and E and risk losing everything. They now also have an A4 poster on the staircase offering helpful advice. However it would be nice if they printed the suggested minimum guidelines next to signs saying you can buy as much as you like.

From P and O Ferries

no limits duty free no limits dutry free

News centre

News Release 102/02 – 10 December 2002

Clear rights for shoppers, clear powers for Customs – Court of Appeal ruling

A Court of Appeal ruling today gave cross-Channel shoppers further clarity about their rights to shop across the E.U. with the minimum of interference and reinforced and backed the Governments approach to tackling smuggling

This ruling underpins the Governments package of measures, introduced in October stating that:

* shoppers can shop across the Channel with confidence knowing that the indicative levels have been raised by the Government from 800 to 3,200 cigarettes (the highest levels in the EU); and

2011, 1st October – NEW GUIDELINES – the amounts have been reduced to 800 cigarettes and 1 Kg rolling tobacco)

* the burden of proof remains on the Customs officer and not the shopper

The ruling was welcomed by Government and confirms:

* Customs checks are not random but are based on reasonable grounds;

* smuggled goods are liable to seizure whenever they are found; and

* tobacco and alcohol brought in for sale, even if it is not for profit and even if it is for payment in kind rather than cash, is not "own use" and the goods can be seized

Customs Minister John Healey said:

"This is a welcome judgment both for cross-Channel shoppers and for Customs

It makes crystal clear the rights of shoppers and puts beyond doubt the actions of Customs in tackling smugglers. The Court has confirmed that our Customs regime is lawful, fair and reasonable

With the package of new measures. I introduced in October and the backing of this Court judgment, we can ensure minimum interference for honest shoppers but continue our drive to stamp out cross-Channel smuggling, which in two years has already succeeded in cutting revenue losses from bootlegged tobacco and alcohol by 80% – this is money going back in to the public purse for public services"

Notes to Editors

The Court confirmed:

Own use and commercial use – clarified

Shoppers can bring back as much alcohol and tobacco for their own personal use. Shoppers cannot bring goods back in exchange for money or any other payment in kind, if they do so this is a commercial import and is therefore liable to seizure if United Kingdom taxes have been evaded

Legality of Customs stops and seizures – clarified

Although the original stop made by Customs in the case at the Court of appeal was found to be invalid, the seizure of illicit goods that resulted from that stop was found to be legal. Therefore any smuggled goods detected by Customs are liable to seizure, even if the reason for the stop was not properly recorded. This ruling should mean an end to speculation about large compensation claims against Customs for the seizure of goods and vehicles. Customs however has already changed its procedures in note-booking to ensure that all reasons are recorded

Reasonable grounds to stop – clarified

Customs does not stop people at random but where it has reasonable grounds for suspicion of excise smuggling; the Court found that reasonable grounds for suspicion include a wide range of information and observational factors such as trends and profiles and not simply specific intelligence on individuals

Scale of the problem

The Government published the latest figures on the size of the United Kingdoms tobacco and alcohol smuggling problem as part of the Pre Budget Report. They showed that in 2001-02 for the first time in a decade the volume of cigarettes smuggled into the United Kingdom was down (by almost a billion cigarettes). It also showed that in the past two years Customs had succeeded in cutting revenue losses from cross Channel passenger smuggling of tobacco and alcohol by over 80%. Today's Court of Appeal ruling provides a clear legal underpinning to enable Customs to continue that successful approach

If using specific facts contained in this release please check the information is still current

Anyone with information about illegally imported drugs, tobacco or alcohol or about VAT fraud can speak to a Customs officer in complete confidence. Call Customs Confidential 24 hours a day on 0800 59 5000

Issued by HM Customs and Excise Communications Division

News Release 94/02. 02/12/10

United Kingdom responds to European Commission on Cross-Channel tobacco smugglers

The Government today replied to the Commissions further enquiry about Customs approach to tackling cross-Channel passenger smuggling of tobacco and alcohol.

In its response the United Kingdom has reaffirmed its:

* absolute support for the principle of unrestricted cross-border shopping for own use within the E.U.'s Single Market;

* determination to tackle the smuggling of tobacco and alcohol for illicit resale in the United Kingdom.

Notes to editors

1. The European Commission wrote to the United Kingdom Government on 23 September requesting further information be provided to them by today on the United Kingdoms approach to tackling cross-Channel passenger smuggling of tobacco and alcohol.

2. The Governments reply reiterates the announcements made by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Healey MP, on 29 October which mean:

* the United Kingdom has the highest indicative levels for tobacco in the EU, at 3,200 cigarettes and 3kg of hand rolling tobacco – six months supply for the average smoker;

* the burden of proof in cases of commercial intent now lies with Customs and is framed in legislation; and

* the United Kingdoms vehicle confiscation policy is even more clearly focused on the large scale and inveterate excise smuggler.

3. The Government has explained that it believes these measures provide the travelling public with clear reassurance on their right to shop for alcohol or tobacco for their own use within the EU, while enabling Customs to redouble their efforts to stop the smugglers of tobacco or alcohol – and the disorder they cause – from ruining the enjoyment of honest cross-border shoppers. That this balance is effectively struck is demonstrated by a 42% rise in legal cross-border shopping for alcohol and tobacco during the same period in which cross-Channel passenger smuggling has been cut by more than three quarters.

4. The Commissions enquiry centred on three broad areas:

* the basis on which Customs stop travellers;

* How tobacco and alcohol for own use is distinguished from that brought in for resale; and

* seizure of vehicles used in smuggling attempts.

5. In response the Governments has explained that:

* Customs only stop cross-Channel travellers for excise purposes where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a traveller may be smuggling excise goods. Less than one tenth of one per cent of the 14 million passengers who cross the Channel each year have goods seized.

* the quantity of goods being carried is just one of a series of factors specified in E.U. law which Customs take into account when determining whether they believe goods are intended for resale rather than own use. Customs officers almost always get complex judgements, made in difficult circumstances, about who is smuggling and who is shopping, right. Over the past two years three-quarters of those who had goods seized chose not to make any sort of appeal. Of those that did, the judgements of Customs' staff were overwhelmingly supported – the courts reversing fewer than 0.1 per cent of decisions and the tribunals or internal reviews overturning just one per cent.

* Customs use an array of sanctions against excise fraud. Like most Member States the United Kingdom has legal provisions that permit the seizure of vehicles used in smuggling attempts. Other Member States adopt a similar approach. Customs vehicle seizure and restoration policies are applied in a proportionate and graduated way so that they bite hardest on the 'professional bootleggers' but provide for restoration for small-scale first time offenders.

If using specific facts contained in this release please check the information is still current.

Anyone with information about illegally imported drugs, tobacco or alcohol or about VAT fraud can speak to a Customs officer in complete confidence. Call Customs Confidential 24 hours a day on 0800 59 5000.

Issued by HM Customs and Excise Communications Division



This leaflet contains information about when Customs might stop people coming back into the United Kingdom, what you are allowed to bring with you and what the consequences could be if you do break the law.


YES. Customs can stop people in two circumstances:

Anybody entering the United Kingdom can be stopped, asked a few questions and sometimes a Customs Officer may check their vehicle and/or baggage. We do this under the power given to us under Section 78 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 for the purpose of protecting the United Kingdom from the smuggling of a wide range of prohibited and restricted goods such as drugs, firearms and obscene material. Last year Customs seized seven and a half tonnes of heroin and cocaine thanks in part to this power.

When Customs have reasonable grounds to suspect that somebody may be carrying tobacco or alcohol which is not for their own use they are also empowered under Sections 163 and 163A of the same Act to detain people and search their vehicle and any articles that they are carrying. Customs can and do use this power throughout the United Kingdom.


NO. Not least because it would not be a very efficient way of doing our job. We try to stop as few people as possible consistent with our task of finding illicit goods.

Unfortunately, smugglers don't want to stick out like sore thumbs and they try to blend in with the great majority of law abiding travellers. This means we need your co-operation should it be necessary to stop you. If you are not carrying anything illegal with you then any stop will normally only take a few minutes at most.


YES. As long as it is for your own use you can bring back as much as you like.

But you cannot bring back tobacco or alcohol which is not for your own use without payment of United Kingdom taxes. That means you cannot bring these goods back if you plan to sell any of them or receive any other form of reimbursement for some or all of those goods.


Customs have to be satisfied that such goods are not for your own use. Therefore, if you bring back large quantities of tobacco or alcohol you may be asked to provide a satisfactory explanation for how those goods are all for your own use. This particularly applies if you have with you more than the following amounts:

800 cigarettes 400 cigarillos

200 cigars 1 kg of smoking tobacco

110 litres of beer 10 litres of spirits

90 litres of wine 20 litres fortified wine

(of which only 60 (such as port or

Litres can be sherry)

Sparkling wine)

The officer will take into account all the factors of the situation and your explanation. If you do not provide a satisfactory explanation the Officer may well conclude that those goods are not for your own use and they will be liable to seizure.


Those goods will be liable to seizure as will any vehicle used to bring them into the United Kingdom You could also face a fine of up to £5,000 for possessing unmarked tobacco and up to seven years imprisonment on conviction of a smuggling offence.


Customs want the same things as the vast majority of ordinary law-abiding citizens. We want you to enjoy your visit abroad. We know that buying some alcohol and tobacco for your own use is often part of the fun and it is a right we all enjoy as part of the European Single Market.

But we also have a duty to protect you and your family from threats like drugs, firearms, disease and paedophiles. And we want to stop tobacco and alcohol smugglers ripping us all off by evading taxes which the rest of us pay to fund our schools and hospitals and other vital public services.

August 2002

A reply from HM C and E to a letter from one of our supporters

It seems even if you try to show you are not a smuggler you still cannot win (OR they say they are not trying to frustrate the right of British citizens to shop abroad).

Please note that the guidance levels for excise goods (e.g. wines, beers, spirits, tobacco products, etc.) bought duty paid in the European Union (EU) are those agreed by all Member States of the E.U. This agreement was laid down in E.U. law in the form of an EEC Council Directive, and the United Kingdom law arising from this is S.I. (Statutory Instrument) 1992/3155, ‘The Excise Duties (Personal Reliefs) Order 1992 (the PRO).’

The following represent extracts taken from the PRO and quoted in Customs and Excise guidelines, which. I hope will clarify the situation.

Relief from Duty of Excise – Cross Border Shopping

Subject to the provisions of this Order a Community traveller entering the United Kingdom shall be relieved of any duty on excise goods which he has obtained for his own use in the course of cross border shopping and which he has transported – PRO, Article 3.

Relief from Duty of Excise – Conditions

(1) The reliefs afforded under this Order are subject to the conditions that the excise goods in question are not imported for a commercial purpose nor are held or used for such purpose whether by a Community traveller who imported them or by some other person who has possession or control of them; and if that condition is not complied with in relation to any excise goods, those goods shall, without prejudice to Article 6 below, be liable to forfeiture.

(2) In determining whether or not the excise goods the person has in his possession or control were imported for a commercial purpose or, as the case may be, are held or used for such purpose regard shall be taken of:

(a) His reasons for having possession or control of those goods;

(b) Whether or not he is a revenue trader;

(c) His conduct in relation to those goods and, for the purposes of this sub-paragraph, conduct includes his intentions at any time in relation to those goods;

(d) The location of those goods;

(e) The mode of transport to convey those goods;

(f) Any document or other information whatsoever relating to those goods;

(g) The nature of those goods including the nature and condition of any package or container;

(h) The quantity of those goods;

(I) Whether he has personally financed the purchase of those goods; and

(j) Any other circumstances which appear to be relevant.

Indicative Levels

For the purpose of the determination referred to in paragraph (2) above (see Relief from Excise Duty above) a person shall be regarded as having imported, held or used excise goods for a commercial purpose if he has in his possession or control any excise goods in excess of any of the quantities shown in the Schedule to this Order unless, if required to do so, he satisfies the Commissioners to the contrary – PRO Article 5(3).

Please note that the guidance levels for excise goods (e.g. wines, beers, spirits, tobacco products, etc.) bought duty paid in the European Union (EU) are those agreed by all Member States of the E.U. This agreement was laid down in E.U. law in the form of an EEC Council Directive, and the United Kingdom law arising from this is S.I. (Statutory Instrument) 1992/3155, ‘The Excise Duties (Personal Reliefs) Order 1992 (the PRO).’

The following represent extracts taken from the PRO and quoted in Customs and Excise guidelines, which. I hope will clarify the situation.

Schedule to PRO.

With reference to the above, if someone exceeds any of the indicative levels, he is deemed to be importing these goods for commercial purposes. However, if he can convince the United Kingdom Customs Officer that they are for personal use (which includes serving to friends and family at a party, wedding etc.) no action will be taken.

There is as yet no harmonisation of excise duty and VAT rates in the EU, and each country has its own rates. If a trader makes a commercial importation from another E.U. country, he pays the United Kingdom excise duty and VAT in advance. When he shows evidence of this to the E.U. supplier, he is exempt from that countries excise duty and VAT.

The ordinary traveller, however, has to pay the other countries charges: if he stays within the guidance levels, or exceeds them, but satisfies the Officer as to private use, he does not pay any United Kingdom charges.

Therefore, based upon the contents of the PRO, the Officer of Customs and Excise at the place of importation has the power, by law, to seize or detain any quantity of excise goods and any vehicle used for its transportation, that he believes may be used for purposes other than for a personal nature.

As stated above, unless it can be proved otherwise, should any person exceed the indicative levels of excise goods, they will be deemed to have imported them for commercial purposes, and the goods in question would be liable to seizure or detention.


Article 9.2 of the EC Council Directive 92/12/EEC states that, ‘Member States may lay down guide levels, solely as a form of evidence.’ The law as per Public Notice 1 lays down these guide levels.

Please note that circumstances may arise where you may be allowed to bring in excess of these levels, and conversely there may be occasions where you are not allowed to do so. However, the fact remains that the traveller must be able to satisfy the Officer at the port that the excise duty paid goods are being brought in for your personal use.

In the end, the decision to allow the traveller to import these quantities (which may be in excess of the guidance levels) will always remain with the Officer at the port. I regret that any advice from this office cannot be given where hypothetical situations are concerned, and furthermore, any advice given in this matter, cannot guarantee a free passage.

Another reply from C and E to a shopper trying to be legal and above board. It seems that even the Authorities don't know what to do!

I'm sorry that, I can offer you no advice on how to convince a Customs Officer that approximately 6kgs of tobacco are for your own use.

However, if you wish to write to Customs at the port prior to your journey, this would show that you are not trying to smuggle the tobacco through. You should send your correspondence to: Anti-Smuggling Tourist District, No. 1 Control Building. Eastern Docks. Dover. Kent CT16 1HZ.

If possible you should give dates and times of travelling and indicate either tunnel or ferry crossing, you should also give your vehicle registration number if you intend travelling by car.

Finally, if you keep copies of these e-mails with you when you travel, it will demonstrate to my colleagues at the port that you have made reasonable attempts to address this potential problem before you made the journey.

I know that non of the above is fool proof but it is the best advice. I can offer you.

A letter from the Solicitors Office at Customs and Excise

– to a victim stated "Firstly may. I point out that the Hoverspeed case was a Judicial Review hearing, which creates no binding precedent on any other Court in the land, but merely applies to the appellants concerned."


It goes on to say, "Customs must have reasonable suspicion to stop a traveller to search for excise goods. However, if you are stopped for restrictions and prohibitions, which the majority if not all of passengers are, then no reasonable grounds are needed."



Disturbing reports of HM Revenue and Customs changing the Summary victims receive just before their cases are heard are coming in. Quite how you can seize and confiscate goods for a specific reason one day and then give another reason the next is puzzling. If you are in this position we strongly suggest you refuse to accept a change. They won't like it but that's because they will lose. Stand your ground. Insist your case is heard on the basis of the original Summary.

Useful Outside links

Customs tobacco – We really like what this group is doing challenging Customs and holding them to account. "A blog on issues and experiences of U.K. Customs and Smoking Ban. Guest posts welcome. Note:- We use the term U.K. Customs for simplicity of understanding, their official title is HMRC and are under U.K. Border Agency now.". Please remember though, that any tobacco brought back from a trip, must be solely for your own personal use (small amounts may be gifted).

February 2012 – Fightback! Our friends at Smoking Hot continue with their great work. Why not print these leaflets and give them to fellow shoppers / leave them on the ferry etc?.

We found it easier to download the pdf (opens up after download) – Back / Front.

HMRC, bringing goods into the United Kingdom from the E.U.

We have condensed all the many links travellers will need to fight UKBA / HMRC excesses here.

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