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New costs of buying from EU-based retailers should be clearer, says Which?

By Huw Hughes

13 Apr 2021


Image: Pexels

Consumer watchdog Which? has called on the government and businesses to make new costs of buying from EU-based retailers clearer so consumers aren’t caught off guard be extra costs.

It comes as new import charges and returns policies have made post-Brexit shopping more difficult for Brits trying to buy from European retailers.

Two in five (42 percent) of people who ordered products online between the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1 and February 16 experienced some issues, according to a Which? survey of more than 2,000 members of the public.

Delays were the most common issue (24 percent), while 11 percent say they have been asked to pay additional handling or delivery fees. The average charge was 41 pounds, according to the survey, with some people paying up to 300 pounds.

Which? said a lack of clear information on retailers’ websites since the end of the Brexit transition period has meant these added costs have come as a surprise for many shoppers.

The consumer group said “government must work to make the processes for how these costs are charged as simple as possible for both businesses and consumers”. It added: “Businesses must also be upfront about whether the item is being imported from outside the EU and the charges consumers will have to pay if this is the case.”

Which? said it has regularly published the most up to date information available on the charges consumers can expect when shopping from the EU after receiving multiple queries from consumers.

UK shoppers are currently charged VAT at 20 percent, which is applied to most goods. If the total cost of the order is more than 135 pounds or a gift is over 39 pounds, VAT is often collected at the point of delivery.

And online shoppers who buy items from the EU which originate from further afield – for example from a seller based in China on an EU platform - and cost more than 135 pounds will also have to pay additional customs duties. This is because the product originates from outside the EU and so zero-tariff preference between the UK and EU does not apply.

This is different for shoppers in Northern Ireland because of the country’s unique position of remaining within the EU’s Single Market, meaning it remains aligned with EU VAT rules for goods.

“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,” said Which? consumer rights expert Adam French in a statement.

French continued: “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.”