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Extra costs when buying from EU retailers should be clearer, says Which?

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Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·3-min read
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The add-on costs when buying goods from EU-based retailers should be made clearer so that shoppers are not hit with surprise fees or scammed, according to Which?.

Two-fifths (42%) of people who ordered products online between the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1 and mid-February experienced some issues, a survey by the consumer group found.

Delays were the most common issue experienced by those who ordered products online, but one in 10 people (11%) were asked to pay additional handling or delivery fees.

The average charge was £41 but some people paid up to £300.

Some shoppers also experienced difficulties when returning items to the EU.

Which? found nine in 10 (87%) people who returned items between January 1 and February 16 experienced issues such as delays, unexpected paperwork or extra charges.

Which? said that for many people, import charges and confusing returns policies have made shopping with EU retailers after Brexit much more difficult than it used to be.

It argued that a lack of clear, accessible and well-signposted information on how online shopping has been affected since the end of the Brexit transition period means many new charges and processes have not been communicated clearly and have come as a shock to consumers.

Which? said the Government must work to make the processes for how these costs are charged as simple as possible for both businesses and consumers – and companies must also be up-front about any charges.

In some cases, additional customs duties may apply if an online shopper is buying goods from the EU which originated from further afield, for example, from a seller based in China on an EU platform.

Adding to the confusion, couriers’ policies around charges and how they are applied can also vary.

Which? said there is also a risk that without clarity around the charges consumers should expect when shopping from the EU, people could be misled or scammed into paying extra costs.

It highlighted a recent surge in scam texts purporting to be from the Royal Mail and claiming that a parcel is being held due to an unpaid shipping fee.

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If in any doubt over texts or emails from courier services, consumers should not enter any personal details and should contact the delivery firm directly to confirm if it is genuine, Which? said.

Suspect texts or emails can be reported to the courier and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

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.

“Which? is calling on the Government to make these charges clear for consumers so they are not surprised by the costs or, more concerningly, misled or scammed into paying extra charges.

“Businesses must also be up-front about any extra charges so consumers can continue to shop across the border without any unnecessary complications.”

Which? surveyed more than 2,000 people across the UK between February 12 and 16.