Dozens of readers have contacted Dutch News about the problems with delivering parcels from the UK since Brexit.
Gifts under €45 aren’t supposed to incur VAT or duties, but several readers say they’ve been forced to pay. Others report being charged hefty fees without proper explanation – in one case, a cash payment because the delivery company, a large international company, did not accept online bank transfers.
“I actually gave up sending packages to my family in the Netherlands,” said one grandmother. “Last time my daughter had to pay UPS €40 to collect her birthday present that was worth less than €100. It was to be paid for or it would be returned.’
Reader G was informed by PostNL’s helpdesk that his missing parcel had been sent back to the UK because it had no address on it – a claim proved false when the parcel turned up a month later.
He then had to pay over €12 in import duties and delivery charges to collect the package, which contained old clothes he left behind while visiting a relative. The relative had marked the package as “Other” and not as a gift.
Reader Laura said she received a bill from her mother for a birthday present. “She insists she wrote on the envelope that it was a gift and was less than €45, but I had to pay €8.42 before they released my package. Worse, it’s been bouncing around in their system for over a month. It’s not a huge sum 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 different gifts sent to her from the UK, but the duty seemed to vary significantly. She was charged €6.75 for a gift valued at €11, and charged €6.60 for another gift valued at €24. Prices also went up when she opted to collect the package instead of having it delivered.
“There is no indication of how these costs are calculated,” she said. “When I was trying to get our money back I was keying information into a robot on the PostNL website and ended up speaking to someone who was very unconcerned and said it was UK Customs fault! He emailed me for refunds for items that were incorrectly charged.’
PostNL has a website for people to try claim money back they believe that they have wrongly paid VAT and customs duties. Regarding gifts, the website states: “You don’t have to pay VAT on gifts up to a value of €45. Please note: This only applies if the package comes from a private sender.’
L from Eindhoven told Dutch News that she finally got back the €6.75 and the €6.60 she was wrongly charged after using the claim form. “However, the other two packages, which are calculated at over 9 euros, apparently take more time – up to four months.”
People who have had to pay extra for goods ordered from a webshop outside the EU face particular difficulties making a claim – partly due to a lack of transparency about how the fees are calculated.
The situation is further complicated as web shops may advertise that taxes and import duties are included. Since July 2021, goods up to a value of €22 are no longer tax-free and, like more expensive items, must be formally declared.
American reader Cary G bought a book from the UK which was sent via Royal Mail. “The book and shipping cost 23.83 euros, but customs charged me 9.15 euros,” he said. “VAT was 2.15 euros, the processing fee was 7 euros. That’s almost half the price of the book.’
Reader S. said she ordered a few items from multi-brand retailers who said they would cover the taxes and duties. “However, before the orders were shipped, I received a large bill from the trucking company,” she said.
While Fedex and UPS refunded the money after S queried the charges, PostNL did not.
A PostNL spokeswoman told Dutch News that most VAT-related issues have now been resolved. ‘Sometimes things go wrong when exchanging data 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, Deliveries will unfortunately be delayed. This is because many of them need to be inspected before they can be released from customs.”
However, PostNL’s website states that there is no point in objecting if you think the handling costs are too high. “For low-value goods, the clearance costs are relatively high. Not nice, of course, but no reason to complain either. That’s just the rules.’
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