Dozens of readers have been in touch with Dutch News about the problems they have been experiencing with the delivery of parcels from the UK since Brexit.
Gifts worth less than €45 are not supposed to attract value added tax or duties but several readers say they have been forced to pay. Others report being charged high fees without proper explanation – in one case a cash payment because the delivery company, a large international firm, did not accept online transfers.
‘I’ve actually given up sending parcels to my family in the Netherlands,’ one grandmother said. ‘Last time my daughter had to pay UPS €40 so she could pick up her birthday present that was worth less than €100. It was pay up or it would be sent back.’
Reader G was told by PostNL’s helpdesk that his missing parcel had been sent back to the UK because it did not have an address on it – a claim that turned out to be false when the package turned up a month later.
He then had to pay over €12 in import duties and delivery charges to pick up the package, which contained old clothes he left at a relative’s home during a visit. The relative had marked the package ‘other’ rather than gift.
Reader Laura said she was sent an invoice for a birthday present from her mother. ‘She insists she wrote that it was a gift on the envelope, and value under €45, but I have had to pay €8.42 before they will release my package. Worse still, it has been bouncing around in their system for over a month. These are not big sums of money but it adds up when you have to do it multiple times.’
Reader L, who lives in Eindhoven, said she had paid duty on four separate gifts she had been sent from the UK but the duty seemed to vary considerably. On one gift, valued at €11, she was charged €6.75, on another, worth €24, she was charged €6.60. Prices also went up if she opted to collect the package rather than have it delivered.
‘There is no indication of how those costs are calculated,’ she said. ‘When trying to get our money back, I filled in information to a robot on the PostNL website and finally spoke to someone who was very unconcerned, and said it was the UK customs fault! He sent me an email on getting refunds for items charged the wrong amount.’
PostNL has a web page where people can try to claim back money they think they have wrongly paid in value added tax and duties. For gifts, the website states: ‘you do not have to pay VAT for gifts with a value of up to €45. Please note: this only applies if the parcel is from a private sender.’
L from Eindhoven told Dutch News she had eventually received back the €6.75 and the €6.60 she had wrongly been charged after using the claim form. ‘However the other two parcels charged at over €9 apparently require more time – up to four months.’
People who have had to pay extra for goods ordered from a web shop outside the EU face specific difficulties in trying to make a claim – partly because of the lack of transparency about how the fees are calculated.
The situation is further complicated because web shops may advertise that tax and import duties are included. Since July 2021, goods with a value up to €22 are no longer exempt from tax and also require formal customs clearance, along with more expensive items.
American reader Cary G bought a book from Britain which was sent via Royal Mail. ‘The book and postage were €23.83 but I was charged €9.15 by customs,’ he said. ‘The value added tax was €2.15 but the handing fee was €7. That is nearly half the price of the book.’
Reader S said she had ordered a few things from multi brand retailers which said they will cover the taxes and duties. ‘However, before the orders were delivered I received a big bill from the shipping company,’ she said.
While Fedex and UPS did refund the money after S queried the charges, PostNL failed to do so.
A spokeswoman for PostNL told Dutch News that most of the problems relating to value added tax have now been solved. ‘Sometimes things go wrong in the data exchange between the webshop, the e-commerce platform, the postal company abroad and PostNL,’ she said.
‘PostNL depends on the data provided by the sender and if the data is not provided correctly, shipments will unfortunately be delayed. This is because many of them need to be investigated before they can be released by customs.’
Nevertheless, the PostNL website states that objecting is useless if you think the clearance costs are too high. ‘With goods of a low value, the clearance costs are relatively high. Not nice of course, but also no reason to object. That is just how the rules are.’
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