HM Customs and Excise

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HM Customs and Excise
Corporate Logo for HM Customs and Excise.svg
Final logo
Non-ministerial government department overview
Formed 1909 (1909)
Preceding agencies
Dissolved 1 April 2005 (2005-04-01)
Superseding agency
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters New Kings Beam House, Upper Ground, London

HM Customs and Excise (properly known as Her Majesty's Customs and Excise (or His as appropriate), often abbreviated to HMCE) was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government. It was responsible for the collection of Value-added tax (VAT), customs duties, excise duties, and other indirect taxes such as Air Passenger Duty, Climate Change Levy, Insurance Premium Tax, Landfill Tax and Aggregates Levy. It was also responsible for managing the import and export of goods and services into the UK. HMCE merged with the Inland Revenue (which was responsible for the administration and collection of direct taxes) to form a new department, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with effect from 18 April 2005.[1]

HM Customs and Excise staff guarded the borders of the United Kingdom from smugglers. Following a 1971 amalgamation, the service included the former Waterguard, whose uniformed officers had long been a common sight at entry points into the United Kingdom; its insignia was a crowned portcullis with flying chains. Customs officers had authority throughout the country, including the powers of entry to premises and of arrest, though at times requiring the presence of a police constable. These functions (and the organisation responsible for them) were transferred to HMRC, and further transferred (at least in part) in 2008 to the UK Border Agency of the Home Office.[2]

The prefix of HM abbreviates "Her Majesty's" or "His Majesty's", depending on the gender of the reigning monarch.


The ensign of HM Customs & Excise

The Board of Customs, responsible for collecting His or Her Majesty's Customs, had a very long history. Originally, the term customs meant any customary payments or dues of any kind (for example, to the king, or a bishop, or the church), but later became restricted to duties payable to the king on the import or export of goods. The centralised English customs system can be traced to the Winchester Assize of Customs of 1203, in the reign of King John,[3] from which time customs were to be collected and paid to the State Treasury. Legislation concerning customs can be traced to King Edward I. Under the nova custuma in 1275, Collectors of Customs were appointed by Royal patent and, in 1298, custodes custumae were appointed in certain ports to collect customs for the Crown in the form of tonnage and poundage. The first Customs officers were appointed in 1294, and later on included Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Paine, Robert Burns and Richard Whittington (also known as Dick Whittington).

A Board of Customs was effectively created by ordinance on 21 January 1643 under the Ordinance concerning the Customs for the continuance of the ordinance of concerning the subsidy of Tonnage and Poundage from 1 March 1643, to 25 March 1644. Under this act the regulation of the collection of customs was entrusted to a parliamentary committee.

HMCE customs cutter HMRC Vigilant in 2017 entering Weymouth.

A fleet of Customs Cutters (most recently 42 metre Damen patrol vessels) continued to operate after the merger with the Inland Revenue, throughout UK territorial waters, inspecting vessels for illicit cargoes, especially for drugs and the excessive fish catches which wreaked havoc on the European fishing community in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Customs could call on the Royal Navy to assist in apprehending a non-compliant vessel; Customs also worked closely with the Royal Navy's Fishery Protection Squadron.


His or Her Majesty's Excise duties are inland duties levied on articles at the time of their manufacture, such as alcoholic drinks and tobacco, but duties have also been levied on salt, paper and windows. A Board of Excise was established by the Long Parliament, and Excise Duties first levied, in 1643 under the "Excise Ordinance" (Ordinance for the speedy raising and levying of moneys by way of charge or impost upon several commodities).

The Board of Excise was merged with the existing Board of Taxes and Board of Stamps to create the new Board of Inland Revenue in 1849. Famous Excise Officers include Robert Burns, Thomas Paine and Adam Smith.

Customs and Excise[edit]

A British Victorian six pence customs revenue stamp.

The combined Board of Customs and Excise was formed in 1909 by the transfer of responsibility for Excise from the Board of Inland Revenue.

HMCE was not responsible for collecting direct taxes: that was the job of the Inland Revenue. In March 2004, the O'Donnell review called for the merger of Customs and Excise with Inland Revenue; in the 2004 Budget, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the merger would go ahead, and the merged body was implemented by the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005.

Customs and excise ranks[edit]

The Customs uniform was identical to the Royal Navy officers’ uniform with the exception of cap badges, buttons and that cuff rank lace only extended halfway round the cuff, rather than full cuff as in the Royal Navy (this possibly believed to be a WWII cost-cutting measure).


Prior to the mid-1950s, Chief Preventive Officers wore two and a half gold rings on their uniform. After that date they wore three rings. Preventive Officers (later Executive Officers (Preventive)) wore two gold rings. Assistant Preventive Officers (later Assistant Officers (Preventive)) wore one gold ring. All uniformed grades wore a navy curl. Higher grades were the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent, neither of whom wore a uniform.

These were only the ranks of the Preventive, or former Waterguard service. The majority of staff belonged to the Civil Service grades (generally clerical, executive, and secretariat) and did not wear uniform. They were responsible for excise duties, purchase tax, import duties and, from 1972, VAT. The main grades were clerical staff, Officer of C&E, Allowanced Officer of C&E (the allowance was for taking on certain administrative duties e.g. rostering), Surveyor of C&E – all of which were at 'district' level and then Assistant Collector, Deputy Collector and Collector (regional management). The regions of London Port and Liverpool (later 'London Airports' was added) were graded as slightly higher than the others. All grades were amalgamated and incorporated into the general Civil Service grades in 1971.

The Investigation Division was headed by a Chief Investigation Officer, equivalent in rank to a Collector, assisted by a Deputy Chief Investigation Officer and a number of Assistant Chief Investigation Officers. Each team of, usually, six was headed by a Senior Investigation Officer (equivalent to a Surveyor or SEO) and consisted of a mix of Investigation Officers and Higher Investigation Officers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About us". HM Revenue and Customs. 
  2. ^ "Launch of Britain's new unified Border Agency". UK Border Agency. 3 April 2008. Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. 
  3. ^ Heckscher, Eli F (1935). Mercantilism. 1 (1994 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 9781315003993. 

External links[edit]