'My late mother's belongings were stuck in customs'

When Joanna Harry bought a property in Spain, she wanted to make it a place of her own.

So, in early September, the 56-year-old packaged up various belongings – ranging from towels and bedding to some quirky decor – to send to the place where she may one day retire.

The six parcels included some vintage items that belonged to her late mother, and held special sentimental value.

The packages never arrived. Three ended up being returned to her South Wales home. Three were stuck at customs.

“It has been a bit of a nightmare,” Mrs Harry said. “There have been constant emails, no support, and the language barrier has made things difficult.

“These are possessions I love and would like back.”

Customs requirements

Since the UK left the EU, new rules have applied to items being sent to the EU.

Apart from letters, postcards and documents, anything being sent to the EU requires customs declarations forms to be attached. These are either CN22 or CN23 forms, depending on the value of the items. People sending from Northern Ireland do not need these forms.

The recipient may then have to pay customs or VAT charges and a handling fee in the receiving country before they can claim the parcel, although low-value gifts (under €45, or £38) are generally free from VAT or charges.

Mrs Harry used a postal service, Parcelhero, to ensure all the forms were completed, printed and attached to her parcels.

'My late mother's belongings were stuck in customs'
© Getty Images

Since the consumer group Which? got involved in her case, the Spanish postal service ADT Postale has said the parcels are being returned to the UK.

Meanwhile, a ParcelHero spokesman told Which? that it was working to return the parcels to Mrs Harry.

It has subsequently given Joanna £25 credit as an apology.

A Parcelforce Worldwide spokesman said: ‘We are currently experiencing delays to some items being delivered in Spain. Items are leaving the UK on time but are subject to some delay when being processed through Spanish customs.

“To avoid items being held at customs, please ensure you are providing complete and accurate electronic customs data and customs documentation (CN22/23).”

  • ‘I was asked to pay an extra £82 for my £200 coat’
  • EU firms stop UK deliveries over Brexit tax change

In a survey of 1,000 Which? members, 51% of those asked who were planning to send a gift to someone in the EU said they did not know anything at all about the rules which came into force at the start of the year.

Which? said that people sending Christmas gifts to the EU needed to be aware of the requirements.

Also, under the rules, anyone in the UK receiving a gift from the EU worth more than £39 may face a bill for import VAT – with many items charged at 20%.

For goods costing more than £135, customs duties may also apply, which can range from 0% to 25% of the product if they have not been paid by the sender already.

The extra charges are usually collected by the courier on behalf of the government, with customers asked to pay before they can pick up their package. The courier may also charge a handling fee of its own.

When the UK was part of the European Union’s customs union, goods could move freely between the country and other member states without import taxes being charged.

EU retailers sending packages to the UK need to fill out customs declaration forms. Shoppers may also have to pay customs or VAT charges, depending on the value of the product and where it came from.

That created surprise for a number of shoppers at the start of the year, and could be a risk again during the festive season.

Your rights and disputes

  • UK consumers’ rights when buying online, or receiving gifts, from the EU are now more complicated and could lead to disputes. VAT, customs duties and handling fees may all need to be paid. They could be applied before delivery. Many people may find they need to visit the post office to pay all the relevant charges before the item is released
  • Under the Consumer Rights Act, online shoppers have 14 days to return an unwanted item, but they may find it costs them money to send it back
  • Disputes are likely to arise if buyers think the extra charges are a “hidden cost” that they were unaware of, and feel they should not pay. Now the UK has left the EU, this dispute can no longer be settled in UK courts. It falls under the jurisdiction of the country where the seller is located
  • To avoid losing UK consumers’ trade, some overseas sellers in other parts of the world have introduced a rebate scheme to refund some of the charges post-delivery
  • Meanwhile, any parcels or gifts sent from England, Wales or Scotland to the EU must have one of a variety of customs forms stuck to it
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