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An application for an export licence from Arts Council England.

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The new online system – expected to go live in autumn 2021 – will allow applications to be made and managed through an online web portal, streamlining the process for applicants and enabling them to track the status of their applications online.

The move to digital rather than paper applications is welcomed by the trade, particularly as exporting items to the EU next year will face new obstacles. From January, all cargo moving between the UK and the EU will have to undergo customs formalities and border control.

However other stipulations regarding these export licences remain the same. Art, antiques and collectables that are deemed ‘cultural goods’, that are more than 50 years old and exceed a certain value, require an individual licence for export out of the UK – whether on a permanent or temporary basis from Arts Council England. This measure, among other things, enables UK museums to have the opportunity to acquire an important item if the export licence is temporarily blocked.

The licences are processed by the Export Licensing Unit (ELU) and run by Arts Council England, which said it had “commissioned the development of a new digital system to support our export licensing functions”.

Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), said the trade will welcome any effort to streamline the process: “We are encouraged and pleased that the Arts Council is getting on with this and that it is actively being worked on. At BAMF we have been pushing for this for a very long time. A system which is digital and, crucially, interfaces with HMRC and Border Force to ease cross-border trade, is vital.”

The ELU reopened in the summer after closing during lockdown and had introduced a temporary procedure that can be completed online.