Brexit impact for smaller business clients

Oct 01, 2019

Akriti Gupta, Advocacy and Voice writes:

There are less than eight weeks to go to the 31 October Brexit deadline. According to recent reports, 70 per cent of smaller businesses believe that Brexit will adversely impact their business, affecting not only on trade, but business sentiment and investment as well. Ireland is a small open economy, heavily reliant on the UK market as its trade-testing ground. Small businesses that trade with the UK will be affected by supply chain disruption, currency risk, trade tariffs and the requirement to operate within dual regulatory frameworks; the principal risk is the disruption of any continued trade post-Brexit. Practitioners need to liaise with their clients on Brexit-related issues now if they have not already done so.

With Brexit timelines still not established and future business models remaining unclear, smaller businesses and their professional advisers are strongly advised to consider the following five points: 

1. Assess and develop customs capacity

We are encouraging businesses across Ireland and the UK which are currently trading with each other to ensure that they can continue to do so post-Brexit. To do this, they must understand the rules that will apply for importing and exporting.

While some businesses have experience of the customs formalities required to import and export outside of the EU, for many, particularly the smaller business, it will be their first exposure to them.

All business should first apply for a customs registration, i.e. an Economic Operator Registration and Identification Number (EORI). It takes between three and five minutes online to acquire this (see below). Statistics from Revenue and HMRC suggest that thousands of small businesses on the island of Ireland have not applied for one; such business should be encouraged to acquire this without delay.

Regardless of whether customs duties apply to goods moving between Ireland and the UK and the UK and the EU, customs declarations must be submitted to Revenue and HMRC respectively. Businesses should also use the time between now and 31 October to improve their knowledge of customs procedures, and close off any gaps in their customs knowledge that could prevent them from completing customs returns and declarations necessary to keep goods moving.

Businesses will need to have customs expertise and relevant software to file these declarations, or should hire an agent to do this on their behalf. It is important to remember that tax authority officials will check that the proper declarations are in place; goods will be detained at ports and borders if they are not. There are various government supports to help do all of this.

2. Review your supply chain and market

Tariff barriers and border control will cause delayed investment and barriers to trade for small businesses. Businesses must conduct a SWOT analysis of their existing supply chain and consider alternative suppliers and markets outside the UK. We would also recommend speaking to all customs agents and goods transport services as there will also be changes to transportation and logistics between Ireland, the UK and other EU countries. Post-Brexit, businesses that use the “landbridge” will face new rules when using the customs transit procedure, causing delays that will especially impact goods with a short shelf-life. Businesses should consider applying to Revenue/HMRC to avail of customs supports which may allow goods to be moved in an easier manner. 

3. Review all your certification, regulation and licencing

It is essential that businesses check that their products or services are fully compliant with all relevant regulation for sale on the UK or EU market post-Brexit. Businesses in highly regulated sectors such as medical device manufacturing, construction and transportation must be particularly sure that their registrations, certifications and licensing are still valid. Where appropriate, they will need to ensure that their UK supplier has appointed an EU-based authorised regulator, as EU registrations issued to UK companies prior to Brexit may no longer be valid. 

4. Manage currency and cash flow

Volatility in currency markets, particularly around the euro/sterling exchange rate, will present a key challenge for businesses post-Brexit. It is imperative for both importers and exporters to assess their currency exposure. Both importers and exporters should hedge their future transactions to give themselves certainty and a concrete base from which to price their goods and services. Businesses should also be availing of government supports to help manage cash flow and mould their business plans accordingly. One such government support is the Brexit loan schemes; however, only ten per cent of these loan schemes have reportedly been accessed. The Irish Government is now communicating via emails, letters and customs workshops to smaller businesses to encourage them to avail of this facility in order to help them prepare. In the UK, HMRC has stated that it will issue EORI numbers to most VAT-registered businesses, while also making available additional funding to support businesses with the costs of making customs declarations. Businesses based in, or with a branch in, the UK can apply for this funding ahead of the UK leaving the EU.

5. Protect and inform staff

The responsibility to check potential visa requirements for staff, and the recognition of professional qualifications and licences required to practice, remains with the employer. Where relevant, businesses must account for these requirements and keep their staff informed of any developments. With a talent shortage in many areas, businesses must invest in learning and development for staff as a priority.

In addition to taking the above steps, smaller businesses and their professional advisers are strongly encouraged to attend all possible government events and working groups, and ensure that they are maximising government-run Brexit preparation programmes and supports.

Read all our updates in our Brexit web centre at https://www.charteredaccountants.ie/brexit and our page dedicated to no-deal Brexit planning at https://www.charteredaccountants.ie/knowledge-centre/brexit/no-deal-Brexit-planning.