Voluntary disclosures

​​A voluntary disclosure is the communication to the Department of Home Affairs (the Department) through a written error notice of an error, omission or adjustment in a statement (excluding outturn or cargo reports) made to the Department. This may include an error in an import or export declaration.   

Examples of an identified error or omission include:

  • adjustments to valuation of imported or exported goods
    • an error or omission in the customs value
    • adjustments to the customs value relating to transfer pricing
  • an incorrect tariff classification
  • an incorrectly applied Tariff Concession Order.

Eligibility for protection from penalties and prosecution

A voluntary disclosure must disclose fully, truthfully and voluntarily, the details of the relevant import or export declarations and the nature of the errors. If you make a voluntary disclosure, you are protected from offences in sections 243T and 243U of the Customs Act 1901 (the Act) that relate to false or misleading statements.

An error notice is not taken to be given voluntarily if it is given after the Department exercises powers under a customs-related law to verify information in the statement (such as a 214AD notice), or if an infringement is served relating to the statement or if proceedings have commenced in relation to the statement.

Any queries regarding your eligibility for protection from these offences can be forwarded to the Voluntary Disclosures unit.

Submitting a voluntary disclosure

A voluntary disclosure can be made by amending a declaration in the Integrated Cargo System (ICS) or through a written declaration to an Australian Border Force (ABF) Officer outlining the nature of the errors and the relevant declarations.

Intention to Lodge a Voluntary Disclosure

The ABF encourages industry to advise the ABF as soon as they identify errors or omissions. The ABF will recognise an intention to lodge a full disclosure if written notice (PDF format) on company letterhead, addressed to the VDI team is provided.

This must include:

  • the full name and ABN of the company
  • the type of error(s) that occurred
  • when the error(s) occurred and
  • a Letter of Authority, if being represented by a consultant.

The key benefits of lodging an intention of voluntary disclosure include:

  • The Voluntary Disclosures team may begin to assess the basic details of the intention to expedite the assessment process.
  • Strengthening the relationship between the ABF and Trade Industry, as intentions provide evidence of voluntary customs compliance
  • Application of protections from offences under sections 243T and 243U of the Customs Act 1901 (the Act) once an intention is registered, preventing penalties for the errors intending to be disclosed whilst preparations to submit the voluntary disclosure are made.

Amendments to declarations within the Integrated Cargo System (ICS) and thresholds for single manual payment requests

Import declarations lodged in the ICS could contain errors that result in short payment of duty. In situations where a short payment of duty has been made, an importer/owner is required to pay the correct amount of duty to satisfy their legislative obligations under the Act.

For import declarations where multiple errors have occurred on numerous lines, an importer/owner can make an application to pay additional duty on a large number of ICS import declarations through a single manual payment (bulk amendment).

Line amendments for import declarations of 50 lines or less

If the number of lines to be amended is 50 or less, it is the responsibility of the importer or their broker to amend the lines within the ICS. The ICS will automatically calculate any duty or Goods and Services Tax (GST) owing.

Note that in exceptional circumstances the VDI team can issue payment advices for disclosures with 50 lines or less.

Line amendments for import declarations of more than 50 lines

Importers or their brokers may still make amendments for disclosures involving more than 50 lines. However, where an importer wants to pay additional duty or GST on a large number of ICS import declarations through a single payment in connection with a voluntary disclosure request, the Voluntary Disclosures unit can consider this on a case by case basis. The importer must specify all details in the voluntary disclosure request.

Depending upon the nature of the error, omission or adjustment you might also be asked to provide some additional information to assist in the processing of a disclosure. This might include:

  • a copy of an extract of the ICS import declaration data for the relevant disclosure period in an Excel spreadsheet format, including your adjustment calculations, full import declarations numbers and declaration type (example, such as Nature 10, 20, 30)
  • a signed letter with Authority To Act on behalf of the importer or exporter if relevant
  • supporting documentation, including supplier invoices, credit/debit notes, journal ledgers and intercompany loan/netting documents and statements
  • copies of relevant Tariff and/or Valuation Advices from the ABF
  • details of any Advance Pricing Agreements with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • details of any ATO GST liability reassessment if the importer is registered with the GST Deferral Scheme.

The Voluntary Disclosures unit will process voluntary disclosure submissions more efficiently when all the relevant information is provided with the error notice.

The Voluntary Disclosures unit will confirm receipt of your submission within five working days.

Voluntary disclosures relating to transfer pricing

Where a voluntary disclosure involves transfer pricing between related parties, any adjustments to goods must be submitted as soon as the data becomes available and should be submitted in line with your financial reporting obligations. 

Where transfer pricing adjustments apply to multiple related suppliers or multiple financial/calendar years, it is important to note, that adjustments cannot be offset across suppliers or years to calculate a net under- or over-payment of customs duty and GST. Overpayment years (or suppliers) cannot offset underpayment years (or suppliers), however underpayment amounts can be consolidated into one bulk amendment.

The Voluntary Disclosure process will be completed independently of any refund process. You must apply for refunds via the ICS.

Claiming a refund

Where a voluntary disclosure results in an overpayment of customs duty, a claim for a refund can be lodged with the ABF. For more information see refund of customs import duty.

Seeking advice

While not required when disclosing an error, you might consider whether an application for a Tariff Advice, Valuation Advice, or Origin Advice with the ABF is necessary. This may assist you in determining the correct origin or tariff classification of the goods and/or the valuation methodology to be applied to the adjustment.

Benefits of obtaining a Valuation Advice

The purpose of an ABF Valuation Advice (VA) is to determine the appropriate method of valuing imported goods. It is also used to determine the range for transfer pricing adjustments between related party suppliers, in order to reflect arm’s length pricing and to ensure the adjustments meet ABF’s valuation requirements. The key benefits of obtaining a VA from the ABF prior to submitting a voluntary disclosure include:

  • Streamlining the voluntary disclosure assessment process by removing unnecessary repeated requests for additional documents.
  • Valuation Advices are valid for a period of five (5) years, and may also be used as part of future voluntary disclosure submissions by the same entity.

If you have received a Tariff, Valuation, or Origin Advice include this information in your voluntary disclosure submission or intention.

You could consider whether an existing Tariff Advice or Valuation Advice requires amendment.

Further information on the valuation and tariff advice systems is available.

Further learnings

The VDI team has developed an E-learning Module, which can be accessed and used as an educational tool by customs brokers, importers, Trusted Traders and consultants. The Voluntary Disclosures E-learning Module can be accessed at ABF - International Supply Chain Security Education Program (birchlp.com.au).

Contact us

The Voluntary Disclosures unit manages all voluntary disclosure requests by companies. You can email lodgement of your submission, advice and queries to vdi@abf.gov.au.