Heathrow customs staff rebel over 'zero tolerance' duty rules

Heathrow customs Image copyright Getty Images

Customs staff at Heathrow Airport are rebelling against a "zero tolerance" approach to passengers who bring in alcohol or cigarettes without paying duty on them, a report has found.

Staff have been told to seize all tobacco and booze from those who don't declare what they have.

The rule applies even if passengers are only just over their duty-free limit.

But staff have complained about the paperwork involved for such small seizures.


The report, by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt said inspectors witnessed staff at Terminal 5 using their discretion not to seize items on two occasions; once when a passenger was "marginally" over the alcohol allowance, and again when two women, one of whom was elderly, were found to be carrying excess cigarettes and tobacco.

The women were allowed to keep their goods, but had to move into the 'red' customs channel and pay the duty.

When senior managers were told that staff had failed to stick to the 'zero tolerance' rules they "expressed disappointment".

But the inspection report said staff "questioned the cost effectiveness" of taking such a hard line.

Staff pointed out it was likely to "alienate" passengers and lead "to more confrontations".

The report said: "Many felt that... with staff often called away from the customs channels to the immigration controls, they could not function efficiently if they did not exercise discretion."

But it added senior managers "did not accept this" and argued that because customs work was now more "intelligence-led" staff were often not required in the customs channels.

More on this story