Common User Charge Rates announced

Defra has announced the Common User Charge (CUC) rates and how the charge will apply to imports entering Great Britain through Dover and Eurotunnel from 30 April 2024.

White Cliffs of Dover

The Common User Charge (CUC) applies to all commercial movements of plant (products) imports entering Great Britain, and to transits entering and leaving the country. According to Defra’s charge sheet, CUCs for Border Control Points (BCPs) will be up to £145 for shipments with five or more commodity lines.

Commenting on the Common User Charge announcement, James Barnes, the Chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), said:

“Whilst it is welcome that it has at last been published, the Common User Charge (CUC) announcement at the eleventh hour confirms our fears that in just one month, UK horticulture’s competitiveness will be again hit by a cost hike for no material gain. 90% of our growers import plants at some stage of the growing cycle. Nearly 100% are SMEs and, in theory, subject to 100% checks and charges. Today, they have near 0% access to the easements or alternatives to BCP usage. 

“The CUC will levy a fee for every consignment eligible for inspection that enters Great Britain via the short straits route, regardless of whether the consignment is inspected at the Sevington Border Control Point (BCP). The fee is a user fee and will be charged at a rate of £29 per commodity line, capped at £145 per IPAFFS prenotification for all high and medium-risk goods (i.e. plants, seeds, bulbs & cut flowers). Our sector typically has multiple commodity lines per consignment, meaning, in reality, businesses in our sector will be paying the £145 maximum charge. This will be a huge new cost burden for many, hitting SMEs hard, particularly those using groupage. We are now working with our members to understand the details and impacts of the announcement. In due course, we expect to see port operators running commercial BCPs, who have also been awaiting this announcement, to share more information on their charges. 

“While it is a relief that we at last have the headlines of the CUC, we await further detail and guidance. Developed without a full year of robust data set to determine true cost-recovery calculations, it is a policy that feels like it is constructed on the back of an envelope at best. Anyone who understands the seasons and the basics of nature will know what and how much we import differs throughout the year, hence the criticality of an annual data set on which to base this policy. As a sector expecting to be the highest user of BCPs, a majority of which are SMEs already experiencing wider increased cost pressures, we had sought an early announcement for business planning and certainty, a simple and proportionate approach per phytosanitary certificate.

“The CUC, whilst critical, is just one part of the jigsaw of the April border changes, a puzzle that is far from solved. BCPs do not have the capability to handle many of our loads, let alone the volumes, and we have no details on the so-called pragmatic approach. The pragmatic approach lacks any public detail or communication to give confidence or certainty that the lack of capacity or capability of BCPs to handle plants will not cause irreparable damage to an industry hit by extraordinary cost hikes this spring. This CUC announcement and border changes come at the worst time. The charges will undoubtedly increase costs, potentially reduce consumer choice, and increase the likelihood of empty shelves, thereby impacting biodiversity and meeting our nation’s environmental targets.”

Commenting on LinkedIn, Graham Spencer, Director at Plants For Europe Limited, said “Let’s call this what it is – a Brexit tax on horticulture. £145 for any shipment with five or more different items in it. That cost will be passed on to consumers – it’s nothing but a kick in the teeth for horticulture (90% of growers import at least some plants). Our government does not care about our industry – not one bit”.

Spencer also indicated nervousness regarding the elevated and different charging structures for private run ports like Harwich.