Customs, UKBA, or UKBF – Which is it?

HM Customs, HMRC, UKBA, UKBF – are you confused? Don’t know which is which?

More than likely. In the old days of HM Customs & Excise most people probably had a fair idea of what the name implied. Prior to all the changes which we have seen in recent years Customs & Excise had a history which went back to 1909 when the separate Boards of Customs Commissioners and Excise Commissioners were amalgamated. Of course both Customs and Excise were both old departments at the time of the marriage, whose history can be traced back to the 1600’s.

HM Customs & Excise (HMC&E)

HM Customs Ensign

HM Customs ensign originally flown on HM Customs Cutters


In 1643 Excise duties were first imposed on home produced articles to provide money for Cromwell’s Parliamentary Army and then continued by King Charles II for ‘royal purposes’.


In 1671 the Board of Customs was also instituted by King Charles. However, it was already a much older organisation used to control imports and exports, and to levy the Customs duties.

So what has changed?

HM Revenue & Customs logo

Logo of HM Revenue & Customs

HM Revenue & Customs was formed by the merger of the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise which took effect on 18 April 2005.

HMC&E had historically opposed the idea of merger; a stance that was supported by successive governments as well. However, the parliamentary committees had always been advocating the case for a merger. In fact, the parliamentary committee who spearheaded the campaign for a merger expressed its lack of faith in the closer working alternative approach. Canada was cited as an example where the merger of tax administrations took place with positive results.  In an about turn from its previous stance the Government finally announced that a merger of the two departments would take place, stating that the UK was among the few countries in the world still having separate departments for its tax collecting activities.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) was formed and came into existence on 18 April 2005 after the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act received Royal Assent on 7 April 2005.

The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA)

UKBA Logo who took on Customs function

UK Border Agency logo worn as a Uniform Patch

However 3 years later, further changes were on the horizon when the UK Border Agency (UKBA) came into existence in interim form on 1 April 2008 as an agency of the Home Office. The UKBA brought together the Border and Immigration Agency, UK visas and the border control operations of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

With effect from 1 April 2008 all of HMRC’s Detection business unit and Risk and Intelligence staff working in direct support of Detection’s border activity was moved to the UKBA’s management structure.

The creation of the UKBA integrated the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and border related responsibilities of HMRC to create a single immigration and customs control to tackle smuggling, immigration crime and border tax fraud. It was hoped this would deliver significantly improved performance in relation to effective border control.

The agency attained full agency status on 1 April 2009. Immigration Officers and Customs Officers retained their own powers for the enforcement and administration of the UK’s borders. In August 2009 HMRC transferred several thousand Customs Detection Officers to the agency

Disbanding of the UKBA

However the agency came under formal criticism from the Parliamentary Ombudsman for consistently poor service, a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, and a large and increasing number of complaints. In the first nine months of 2009–10, 97% of investigations reported by the Ombudsman resulted in a complaint against the agency being upheld. The complainants were asylum, residence, or other immigration applicants. However the immigration enforcement part of the UKBA had already been separated from the rest of the agency and the Border Force was formed on 1 March 2012.

Formation of UK Visas and Immigration & Border Force


UK Visas and Immigration letterhead

UK Border Force now performing Customs work

Border Force title now worn on stab vests

On 26 March 2013, following a scathing report into the agency’s incompetence by the Home Affairs Select Committee, it was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May that the UK Border Agency would be abolished and its work returned to the Home Office. Its executive agency status was removed as of 31 March 2013 and the agency was split into two new organisations;

  1. UK Visas and Immigration focusing on the visa system and
  2. And the Border Force focusing on immigration law enforcement. This as mentioned above had already been set up in 2012.

And now for something to make you smile (or not, if you happen to be a wearer of the uniform in question)…UK Border Force Staff Sue over £3m ‘Itchy’ Uniforms, and Border guards sue over itchy new uniforms: 250 employees take action over outfits that are causing painful skin conditions




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *