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Brexit: Government urged to clarify cost of EU purchases for UK consumers

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
Delivery asian man holding cardboard boxes in medical rubber gloves and mask. Online shopping and Express delivery, or ecommerce. concept prevent the spread of germs and avoid infections Covid-19
UK consumers can also be charged additional delivery fees for items from the EU. Each courier has a different policy on what they charge and how they ask you to pay. Photo: Getty

The government and businesses have been urged to clarify the true costs UK consumers face when buying from retailers in the European Union following Brexit. 

Since Britain left the block, many British consumers have complained about the frustrations they face amid the new trading rules, which has seen them left with unexpected fees or scammed into paying unnecessary charges. 

According to consumer group Which? those purchasing items from the EU faced bills for VAT, when the item has been imported from another country first, import duties. 

At the moment, UK shoppers are charged VAT at 20%. This is applied to most goods.

Consumers have also had to cough up extra cash on top of those costs as couriers have their own fees for handling the deliveries. 

UK consumers can also be charged additional delivery fees for items from the EU. Each courier has a different policy on what they charge and how they ask you to pay.

A study of over 2,000 respondents, showed 42% of people who ordered products online between the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January and 16 February experienced some issues.

While delays were the most common issue cited by those who ordered online, with one in four people (24%) experiencing delays – the research revealed that 11% have been asked to pay additional handling or delivery fees.

The survey showed the average charge was £41 ($56.20), with some people paying up to £300.

Which? said a lack of clear, well signposted information on import taxes and duties meant customers had been taken by surprise by fees on items they had ordered.

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The rules are different for shoppers in Northern Ireland as it has remained in the EU’s Single Market, meaning it remains aligned with EU VAT rules for goods.

Additionally, some shoppers expressed they experienced issues when returning items to the continent. 

Which?’s survey found nine in ten (87%) people who have returned items between 1 January and 16 February have experienced difficulties including delays, unexpected paperwork or extra charges.

To make a return to the EU, consumers now need to complete a customs declaration form and to include the item’s description, weight and value. The customs charge is paid for by the recipient upon delivery.

Brexit has affected many aspects of how UK consumers interact with EU merchants. 

"If consumers have an issue with a product bought from an EU-based business — because it’s faulty or the pricing was misleading — they are very unlikely to be able to enforce their consumer rights through the UK courts as was previously the case. They may need to pursue the issue with consumer protection authorities or through the courts in the country where the business is based," Which? said. 

UK authorities also no longer have the ability to take part in coordinated enforcement activities against firms that breach the law in multiple markets or have access to the same level of intelligence from the EU.

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: "Many consumers across the UK could have been surprised to learn how often they buy from EU based retailers. After Brexit, many were caught off-guard by the new delivery charges and returns policies for parcels from the EU – and left footing unexpected bills."

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