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Buying from Europe? Import changes made it a whole lot more complicated and costlier!

All you need to know about how much goods from abroad will cost you

Buying goods and services from outside the UK has become more complicated after Brexit. Although the “free trade” deal was agreed (which means there are no quotas or tariffs on goods traded between the EU and UK) there are now extra taxes and costs when you import  goods from the EU.

These additional charges will be costly for the consumer. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that these changes will raise more than £300 million a year over the next five years. Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill debate in the House of Commons.

It also believes that these changes will level the playing field with purchases from countries outside of the EU so that UK businesses are not disadvantaged by VAT free imports. However, whether this has taken into consideration the likely suspension of many companies taking orders from the UK and/or fewer consumers purchasing from abroad is unclear. One can’t expect consumers to be purchasing more expensive items from the UK once Customs Duty and Import VAT is added into a price. Will the increased tax paid by UK companies on increased sales equal the loss of Import costs? We may find that as UK companies have to import a lot of parts from abroad that actually costs go up more. It is hard to see any positive outcome for the with box, hands on clipboardHere’s what you need to know:

1) Receiving a gift from outside of the UK under £39

This will be free from Customs Duty and Import VAT.

2) Receiving a gift from outside the UK

For gifts worth between £135 and £630, Customs Duty will be charged at 2.5% but rates are lower for some goods. See Imports and exports: general enquiries

3) Receiving a gift of alcohol or tobacco from outside the UK under £39

No import VAT or Customs Duty will be due on tobacco, so long as quantities are less than 50 cigarettes or 25 cigarillos or 10 cigars or 50 grams of smoking tobacco. No import VAT or Customs Duty will be due on alcohol and alcoholic beverages so long as quantities are limited to 1 litre of distilled beverages and spirits of an alcoholic strength exceeding 22% by volume, undenatured ethyl alcohol of 80% by volume and over or distilled beverages and spirits, and aperitifs with a wine or alcohol base, tafia, saké or similar beverages of an alcoholic strength of 22% by volume or less, sparkling wines and fortified wines or 2 litres of still wine.

4)    Receiving gifts of perfumes and toilet waters

Customs Duty and Excise Duty are not chargeable. Import VAT will be due if on perfume over 50 grammes or 0.25 litres of toilet water chargeable or if the goods’ value exceeds £39.

5) Multi-gift packages containing more than one gift and clearly intended for several people

 When you receive a parcel full of gifts for more than one person the £39 limit referred to above applies to each individual person as long as the goods are:

  • individually wrapped
  • specifically addressed to them
  • declared separately on the customs declaration
  • within the allowances specified
  • marked with the price for each individual item on the declaration

If more than one individual package is addressed to a particular person, the value of the goods will be added together. If the total value exceeds £39, the rules above regarding an item more than £39 will apply.”

6) Multi-gift packages containing more than one gift for one person

These should be separately described and given a value on the customs declaration. Each package inside the parcel must be separately described and given a value on the customs declaration. The Customs Duty waiver will apply to each item (See point 2 above). For import VAT the total of value of items is applied and anything over the £39 threshold will attract the VAT.

7) When one item is sent to 2 people

The relief is not split.

When one item is sent to 2 people and its value exceeds £39, it’s not possible to aggregate each person’s gift relief, and the value of an individual item itself cannot be divided. E.g. an item for £50 will still attract VAT on the £11 above the £39 limit.

8) Buying something from outside of the UK

You will have to pay Import VAT at 20%.

9) Buying alcohol, tobacco products and fragrances (e.g. perfume, eau de toilette and cologne) of any value from outside the UK

You will have to pay Import VAT at 20%.

10) Buying something from outside of the UK over £135

You will have to pay Customs Duty.

11) Buying alcohol or tobacco  alcohol, tobacco products, perfume or toilet waters outside of the UK

Excise duty is liable on all of these items

12) When VAT is charged on items bought from outside the UK

If the item is less than £135 and not bought through an online marketplace, customers in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will have UK supply VAT charged at the point of sale. In Northern Ireland customers will have import VAT charged

13) Finding out how much the cost of Customs Duty will be

This varies hugely. You will need to go through (a complicated system!) Trade Tariff

14) Buying items through an online marketplace such as eBay or Amazon

All items bought through an online market place, regardless of price, will include all the duty owed. eBay and Amazon both say that the extra VAT will be paid at the point of sale. It remains to be seen if this is clear on all items.

15) The examination of goods at border control

Border Force staff examine postal packages for prohibited or restricted goods, for example, drugs, indecent or obscene material, weapons, endangered species and counterfeit goods.

They will look to confirm or otherwise the description and value stated on the declaration are correct. They will also check the customs declaration to determine the charges if any of Customs Duty, Excise Duty and Import VAT.

Staff will sometimes need to examine the package contents. For example they may do this when the sender has not completed the declaration correctly. Royal Mail staff will open, repackage and reseal the package under the Border Force instruction.

16) Collection of payments

Royal Mail or the courier will charge a handling fee to cover the costs for carrying out customs procedures and collecting the charges from you. They will collect this fee and any Customs Duty and or Import Duty will be collected from you before you receive the parcel.

17) Complaining about damage to a package

Contact the appropriate Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide Customer Service Centre. If the Border Force has damaged the contents of a package you will receive a letter within it.

18) Rejecting the package at customs

An HMRC advisor said to me that if you reject the package no duty will be charged. However, whether you will get a refund on an item you have bought will depend on the company’s terms and conditions.

19) Questioning import charges

If you have a query or question about the charges you should contact Border Force as soon as possible using the form BOR286.

20) Disagreeing with Border Force’s decision

Within 30 days of the decision you can do one of three things:

  • send new information or arguments to the decision maker
  • request a review of the decision by someone not involved in making the disputed decision
  • appeal direct to the Tribunal who are independent of HMRC

More details of the reviews and appeals can be found here.

If you need help with a purchase bought from within the EU you can contact the European Consumer Centre who should be able to assist you.

20 things you need to know about importing goods to the uk man handing over box to woman in doorway


Latest News Topical

Williamson gets an F for trying to incite complaints against schools

Education Minister asks for complaints – Praise for teachers is the response!

School uniform costs

Within 48 hours of Gavin Williamson (who has no experience in education) encouraging parents to complain to OFSTED if they were not happy with schools, over 5,000 emails were received praising schools.

#tescofail back to school sign over alcohol


I added to the growing number of compliments with the letter below. Please feel free to take what you want from it. Then please email the CEO of OFSTED with it.




Open letter to OFSTED about school provision during covid

“Dear Ms Spielman

I am writing to you regarding Gavin Williamson’s call to parents to complain to OFSTED if they weren’t happy with their schools. I would like to inform you of the following regarding xxxxx school in xxxxxx.

    1) The staff at the school have been incredible. This is despite the appalling, unacceptable, arrogant, ignorant and wholly irresponsible way that the schools have been treated by the Government.
    2) Some parents understandably, but wrongly, assume that schools know of the numerous changes and expect to be given further information as soon as they hear about it in the media, when actually schools hear at the same time. Despite this, senior staff have been quick to try and put changes in place, bearing in mind that this is after a briefing and so have entailed working long hours, in some cases through the night.
    3) Despite the Government’s atrocious communication with schools, our school has always been quick to inform parents with a holding email (e.g. we don’t know any details but are working on it) and/or an email giving parents and carers up-to-date information.
    4) Despite staff being put under immense pressure by Government to work far too many hours to be healthy by any stretch of the imagination, the school has continually asked for feedback from parents/carers and has acted upon it.
    5) Despite the Government committing to delivering 200,000 laptops and tablets to schools this was not completed until June 2020 (Government figures obtained through an FOI). However, our school was not alone in struggling to get their promised share and indeed is still struggling to get more. As you will be aware there are approximately 2 million children in the UK for which schools receive pupil premium. It is likely that the majority of these children would need an electronic device and Internet access. In addition to this, many families have one or two devices that have to be shared round adults working and children learning. The 200,212 devices (the DfE says that a total of 700,000 devices have been delivered so far, as recently as last week (week beginning 04/01/20) and a further 300,000 to be delivered announced today) is clearly a drop in the ocean and is too little too late and many children have not been able to learn at home. This is clearly NOT the fault of any school, it is the fault of the Government for not providing enough resources to the schools. Schools that have been hugely under-resourced for a number of years to even run adequately, never mind in a pandemic.
    6) Despite the Government continually changing guidelines, the school has worked tirelessly to get such things as risk assessments written and agreed with staff, unions and Governors, often spending hours and hours on it for them only to be changed again.
    7) Despite (senior in particular) staff planning and working through evenings and weekends and through the holidays and our Head working every weekend since March 2020, they have just simply had the attitude that it has to be done.
    8) Despite being told via the media the day schools broke up for the Christmas holidays that they would be COVID-19 testing centres for pupils, staff yet again worked through the school holidays to organise this only for the Government to change the rules. Again.
    9) The Government did not follow the rest of the UK and undervalued and undermined teachers by using poorly thought out algorithms, instead of trusting experts. This has unnecessarily caused huge amounts of further stress to young people in the exam years but the school was extremely supportive to the young people concerned.
    10) Although it would have been sensible to shut schools a week before they were due to close for Christmas, so that families could self-isolate before Xmas day and reduce the risk of transferring the virus over Christmas, the Government chose not to do so. In Waltham Forest the council took the decision to order schools to close despite the bullying legal action being threatened by Government. The school kept in line with the borough.
    11) Despite all the issues regarding vouchers and getting meals to those on free school meals, none of which were the school’s fault, staff went on foot to take food to families who were part of the school community.
    12) Despite the Government’s lack of support to schools and its inadequate funding to support the existing gaps between children’s learning, staff have worked tirelessly on a recovery timetable and on developing strategies to address the difficulties in the best possible ways.
    13) The Government expected schools to provide online learning without providing the physical resources or training and unions insisted that staff should not have to provide live lessons in the first lockdown. Despite these challenges, the school worked hard to do as much as was possible and in the run up to the latest lockdown saw it coming and prepared and trained staff so that they would be able to run successful lessons from the start.
    14) The Government recently changed the rules so that pupils who don’t have access to online learning are also deemed as “vulnerable” and can go to school. This adds to the risk of transmission and is a flagrant disregard for what determines a vulnerable child. Although the Government has still not provided schools with the necessary equipment, the school has yet again acted quickly to adapt and give children the best possible learning experience they can.
    15) The Government has not provided clear guidance on how to keep cases as low as possible in schools and has frequently changed guidance on how staff can be protected. Again it has not provided the resources for them to do so, yet the school’s internal track and trace has been superb and the numbers of pupils sent home to self-isolate has been relatively low compared to other schools. This system took many additional hours to develop and run.
    16) Schools have not been given adequate funding to ensure cover for the higher number of staff being sick or self-isolating, or being vulnerable themselves and so unable to come into school. Despite this, the school has worked tirelessly to ensure that learning still takes place in every lesson time, whilst supporting staff, and children have not missed any lessons due to this, although it will cause huge further financial problems in the near future.
    17) Despite being given no extra funding for the increased mental health and safeguarding support needed, the staff have yet again risen to this further challenge, working yet more hours and with incredible diligence to identify the pupils and families now in need.
    18) The schools have been targeted with a bombardment of mixed messages which they have had to deal with. For example, schools were not the cause of increased transmission rates, and the Government stated that they are safe but then told schools they would delay the return by a week before a day later being told that they are that safe that they now need to close! Despite being put in a continually unavoidable position, this school has remained professional and supportive of the whole school community.

I understand that in a poll for ITV News of nearly 6,000 teachers, 92% of respondents said that Gavin Williamson should resign.

It is ironic that following Williamson’s call for complaints, so few complaints and so many compliments have been received by OFSTED.

I trust that in its work with the Minister, OFSTED will be sharing in detail the views of the public. Perhaps he could be questioned on what he expects OFSTED to do with a few complaints from a very low number of schools? Those complaints represent a drop in the ocean and are probably most due to under-funding. Take the number of people involved with schools and the percentage which complained and complimented. Take the same people and compare how many complain or compliment Williamson and the Government.

Then he could be questioned on whether a stronger approach is required regarding the rather larger number of complaints about him, his strategy and decision-making  and the very poor treatment of schools by him and the Government.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Ms H Dewdney”

Arched picture of school desks

Perhaps Williamson needs to join my Facebook group Customer Service: Care, Compassion and Integrity He may learn a lot.

In the meantime, his grade is F. Must try harder. His poor performance and interaction with his peers leaves him at risk of being permanently excluded from his position.