Customs officials rebelling over duty zero tolerance crackdown

Customs officials rebelling over duty zero tolerance crackdown

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Customs officers are reported to have rebelled against a “zero tolerance” crackdown on non-EU passengers found with alcohol and cigarettes without paying duty.

Officers warned that the tough approach could alienate passengers, leading to more confrontations in airports.

The Border Force officers are turning a blind eye to those caught with excess alcohol and cigarettes at Heathrow because they believe they should have similar discretion to that given police officers when someone is caught doing 31mph on a 30mph road, The Times reported.

Officers who find people arriving with undeclared goods in excess of the limits should seize the items and the duty-free allowance.

Border Force managers told the immigration and borders inspectorate that a “zero tolerance” approach had been adopted and they knew it was unlawful to exercise “discretion”.

Yet some felt it would be right to allow excess items “marginally” over the allowance or where a traveller was elderly or vulnerable.

“Officers stated that they were told by managers to target large seizures, and were afraid of becoming tied up dealing with low-level seizures and missing high-risk passengers”, a report by David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said.

The paperwork involved in seizing 200 cigarettes was the same as for 200,000. Most managers and staff said they should be allowed discretion.

The report said: “Border Force senior management had moved to ensure that officers in the customs channel complied with the law. The ‘zero tolerance’ approach was not supported in principle by some working in the channels, and not applied in practice in all cases.”

Overall, the inspection of Heathrow found that the Home Office had acted upon recommendations in a previous report.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have taken steps to ensure all Heathrow staff are aware of the importance of enforcing limits on cigarettes and alcohol. This includes, since the re-inspection, the creation of a new role to improve the quality of customs work.”

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