Brexit: ‘I was asked to pay an extra £82 for my £200 coat’
“I had no idea at all I was going to be charged any more for deliveries after Brexit… the extra costs were definitely a bit of a shock.”
Ellie Huddleston, a 26-year-old Londoner, thought she would treat herself to some new work clothes in the January sales.
Having spotted a bargain, she placed an order for a coat and a number of blouses from two of her favourite clothes brands based in Europe.
But both deliveries were delayed, held up in customs checks for at least a week, she says.
She was surprised when she then received a text from courier company DPD, containing a link asking her to pay £58 in additional charges for her £180 order.
On top of that, the UPS courier for the second parcel showed up at her door several days later, asking for an extra payment of £82 for her £200 coat.
“I didn’t even know when the parcels would be coming – so I sent both back without paying the extra fees and won’t be ordering anything from Europe again any time soon.”
When the UK was part of the European Union’s customs union, goods could move freely between the country and other member states without import taxes being charged.
But Ellie was one of the shoppers caught unaware of the fact that those rules have changed since the UK’s official exit.
EU retailers sending packages to the UK now need to fill out customs declaration forms. Shoppers may also have to pay customs or VAT charges, depending on the value of the product and where it came from.
Anyone in the UK receiving a gift from the EU worth more than £39 may now face a bill for import VAT – with many items charged at 20%.
For goods costing more than £135, customs duties may also apply, which can range from 0% to 25% of the product you’re buying if they have not been paid by the sender already.
The extra charges are usually collected by the courier on behalf of the government, with customers asked to pay before they can pick up their package.
Some firms have started charging additional “handling fees” to shoppers to cover costs associated with extra customs checks and paperwork that must be filled out.
Royal Mail, for example, is charging an £8 fee it says “reflects the cost of clearing items through customs and presenting them to Border Force”.
Meanwhile, delivery firm DHL says it is charging UK customers 2.5% of the amount paid to clear customs, with a minimum charge of £11.
Mail and freight company TNT is also adding £4.31 on all shipments from the UK to the EU and vice versa. It has said this reflects the increased investment it has had to make in adjusting its systems to cope with Brexit.
A spokeswoman for Logistics UK told the BBC that the handling fees were “a commercial decision by individual businesses”.
But Michelle Dale, senior manager at accountants UHY Hacker Young, said that new charges could present a major problem for firms in the coming weeks.
“I think what we’ll find is that a lot of trade with the EU from a business-to-customer perspective will come to a stop until some of these rules are eased,” she said.
Some specialist European retailers, such as bicycle part firm Dutch Bike Bits and Belgium-based Beer On Web, recently said that they would stop all deliveries to the UK because of the tax changes that came into force on 1 January, for example.
A government spokesperson said: “The new VAT model ensures goods from EU and non-EU countries are treated in the same way and that UK businesses are not disadvantaged by competition from VAT-free imports.
“The new system also addresses the problem of overseas sellers failing to pay the right amount of VAT when they sell goods in the UK. We anticipate this will bring in £300m in tax every year, to fund essential UK public services.”
There is speculation the rules may change, but until they do, Ellie says she won’t be buying from European firms.
“With all that uncertainty around things and whether or not these charges might change, I’d rather just avoid the hassle,” she says.