Blog: Brexit Bites For Small Businesses: Reality Hits As Retailers Grapple With New Rules – Forbes

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The Brexit transition period has officially ended and many small businesses, particularly eCommerce businesses and other retailers, are facing the reality of new regulations.  Many are having to navigate through complex new requirements around tax and customs charges that have left them baffled.

The high degree of uncertainty around the details of the Brexit deal has led to many businesses getting information on the new regulations very recently.  Not only that, but the timing of Brexit – coinciding with a national lockdown and directly after the busy Christmas selling season, has added to the challenges that small businesses are currently facing.  

“Many simply have not had the time to get their heads around the detail with the challenges of Covid and another lockdown,” said Michelle Ovens CBE, Founder of Small Business Britain.

Moving goods grows in complexity

Much of the difficulty that has arisen from Brexit revolves around the sending of goods into the EU (for example, dispatching an order to a customer in an EU country) as well as an added layer of difficulty to importing goods.  UK businesses are not alone in facing these complexities, in fact, many EU businesses have put a halt to their UK deliveries as a result of these additional restrictions.

For UK businesses who wish to continue to trade with the EU however, they have no choice but to get to grips with the new regulations.

“Customs declarations and rules of origin paperwork are two key areas where UK firms doing business in the EU will now face fresh obligations,” said James Sibley, the Head of International Affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

“Manufacturers who import ingredients and parts from around the world need to be particularly alert to the new changes” he added.   

“We are pleased that a deal has been achieved but now the ‘devil is in the detail’” says Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association.  

“Businesses need to be aware of the import/ export rules, changes to how VAT is charged, impact on eCommerce, and rules regarding the origin of the products. They must also remember that there is a separate protocol for trade with Northern Ireland,” he explained.  

Getting Help

Despite the complexity of the situation, small businesses can at last access confirmed details about the new requirements and be reassured that there is time to implement the changes.

Sibley said, “Thankfully, new requirements will be phased in over twelve months, following our recommendations.”  

“The deal contains the dedicated small business chapter that we’ve always called for, something that will help small businesses to understand how to make the most of the agreement. We now need to see rapid implementation of the chapter, including setting up a dedicated help desk to assist small firms,” he added.

For small businesses who are struggling to understand the new requirements, there is help available.  A government spokesperson said:  “Any business unsure about what they need to do should visit GOV.UK, attend one of our free webinars or watch one of our short films about importing and exporting.”

Sibley agreed: “The implications of this deal will be different for every exporter. The best starting points for getting across it are our own dedicated FSB Transition Hub and the Government’s in-depth guidance.  Checking the guidance and speaking to as many people as you can – those in supply chains, hauliers, clients – is really important.”   

“It will be crucial that small businesses do engage with this process, particularly over the coming months,” added Ovens.  “While Brexit might feel overwhelming, knowledge is power and there is a lot of help and support out there to make the most of it.”

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