Since Brexit, it seems that the promised sunlit uplands and frictionless trade move further from reach by the day.
Going abroad for a Spring holiday is still mission impossible. My family lives in Poland and I am not the only one who has given up on seeing loved ones in the near future. One card remained on the table and that was sending a parcel with some gifts. I have been using a parcel delivery service specializing in this route for quite a long time and they have never disappointed. This time was different. And it’s not even them. It’s the B word.
The online form asked about the number of items and their value. I had to Google the reason for that and discovered that from 1 January 2021 parcels with gifts must not exceed £39 in value to avoid Customs Duty and VAT. Fortunately, its value was just below this threshold. It looked like my parcel would somehow squeeze through and travel with no extra costs.
Oh holy ignorance! A couple of days later I had a call from Mum. ‘I am going to start a business! she informed me. I couldn’t see the catch. ‘I will be sending money to DPD and they will be sending me parcels from you’. ‘Tell me you’re kidding’, I begged. ‘No dear. They want 15 euros from me or there’s no delivery’. Mum was right. The ‘forwarding agent’ was DPD Nederland and they charged €5 administration fee plus 21% VAT. Then another 21% on the value of the parcel converted from £36 to €41.40. That made it €6.05 plus €8.69 totalling €14.74 to pay just to see the parcel. Mum had to pay this on the dpd.com website using her Visa debit card. But that’s not all. There was a third charge of 2% made by her bank for the international payment (this varies from bank to bank and can be as high as 6%). All in all ‘my consignee’ spent the grand total of 71.65 zlotych, or around £13.40. This is enough to kill the joy and turn a gift into a problem for some people.
How could this happen? I wanted an answer so decided to call the DPD regional centre. ‘I am really sorry, sir, but we were obliged to add these charges as the value of your parcel exceeded 22 euros’, explained the agent. I was stumbled again. What about the £39 British threshold? ‘I can’t comment on the law in your country, sir. 22 euros is what matters, I am afraid’, she replied as politely as possible.
Which was the best summary of Brexit I have heard.
Now before you fondly imagine that these sorts of problems are only linked to sending products into the EU, here is a story about a failed "import" from the EU. In March I ordered some silk pyjamas for my sister as a special present from the Ethical Silk Company in Ireland. The value of the parcel was £175 net plus 20% VAT, totalling £210.
My sister lives in London, and as the value of the order was over £100 she was entitled to free shipment from the retailer's side. However, the order and payment were accompanied by the note: "All our products are shipped from Dublin, Ireland. Since 1 January 2021 customs charges will be applicable upon arrival in the UK. They are determined by the UK government and are the responsibility of the purchaser".
To quote Shakespeare: ‘Ay there’s the rub’. Until 31 December 2020 the UK had left the EU but was still in the ‘transition period’, ie within the Single Market and Customs Union. This allowed for free and frictionless movement of goods. The UK is now a third country, and the unlucky recipient – my sister - received a message confirming she would have to pay £48 to import the order from Ireland. This would have been an additional cost of over 22% and taken the total price to £258.
It was decided to cancel the order due to these additional heavy costs.
These are not isolated incidents, as the articles below confirm: