Chancellor Sajid Javid said the government will automatically allocate more than 88,000 VAT registered companies in the UK a “trading number” in the next two weeks to allow those businesses to trade with the EU after 31 October.
The Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number, an important customs system, will allow businesses to make export declarations and comply with other regulations to trade overseas.
According to the latest records from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), only 72,000 out of a possible 240,000 companies had already registered for the key documentation.
It comes after Sky News revealed that two-thirds of UK exporters, responsible for around 25% of trade with the European Union, had not taken the most basic steps to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Javid said the government was “accelerating its preparations” to leave the EU on 31 October.
He said: “There can be no time for delay which is why HMRC has allocated thousands of businesses with a trading number to ensure they can continue to trade their goods through Europe from day one.
“This will help ease the flow of goods at border points and support businesses to trade and grow.”
The Treasury confirmed that businesses, even those not registered for VAT, will need an EORI number post-Brexit to be able to trade with EU member states.
The Department of Business said it was launching a “public information campaign” to help companies outside the automatic enrolment programme to sign up to the system.
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “I would urge businesses that are not VAT-registered to come forward and register for an EORI number.”
Currently EORI numbers are only required by companies that trade with countries outside the EU, because imports and exports between member states are tariff-free.
While business groups largely welcomed the announcement, some pointed to the added burden and complexities of customs declarations.
British Chambers of Commerce director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “The proportion of firms applying for EORI numbers was concerningly low, and automatic issuance will help ease the administrative burden facing companies in the weeks and months ahead.
“Sorting EORI numbers is only a first step. For many firms, it will trigger more questions.”
Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said: “Overnight, small business exporters will have to contend with growth sapping tariffs and time consuming customs declarations.
“These businesses are the ones that need to prepare the most, so it is welcome to see the government has listened to us and is taking concrete action.”
In the event of no-deal, UK trade with Europe will be subject to the same customs controls as the rest of the world and experts predict a quadrupling in the number of customs declarations.
Currently there are around 50 million declarations each year, expected to rise to 200 million if all European trade is included.
Meanwhile, councils will be given £9m to help make sure they are staffed to deal with any issues at ports after Brexit.
Kent County Council will receive more than £2.6m of the funding, due to the pressure it faces around the Port of Dover.
A total of £5m will be given to councils which either have or are near a major air, land or sea port to make sure they will keep operating efficiently once the UK leaves.
The remaining £4m will be provided to local resilience forums – partnerships made up of representatives from local public services – across England to support their work.
A total of £1.7m will go to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.