Gareth Overton bought an electric drum kit for his 12-year-old son, Seth, from German music website Thomann on 12 January. He paid the cost of the instrument in full online.
However, when he got a delivery notification from carrier UPS, he was told it was subject to him paying a £194.89 fee in “import charges” - or the item would be seized by Customs officials.
He said: “It was a huge surprise to me when I got an email from the tracking, saying that I had to pay a fee before they delivered to me and that fee was £194.89. UPS is essentially invoicing me on behalf of the UK Government for UK VAT.
“As far as I’m concerned, Thomann is doing everything right, they’re doing it according to our Brexit terms. It’s just it’s the first time ever I’ve been charged VAT after something is already on its way to my doorstep - and if I don’t pay, I won’t get it and it will be seized by customs. It’s a right mess.”
The rules have changed since Britain left the European Union, however, many shoppers are still unaware that goods they buy from Europe may now be subject to the extra charges.
Mr Overton acknowledges that at the very last moment as he made the order online, he noticed a message that said ‘This price does not include VAT’. Assuming any VAT owed would be added on by the time he paid through his Paypal account, he continued and was surprised that the total cost was what he had expected: £785.
He said: “I thought, ‘oh no, this is going to cost me loads more’. But in all of my other experiences of buying stuff online, once you get to payment, you’re told the full cost, but it didn’t do that. I went through the payment system and paid £785. I assumed that was a done deal and it said delivery was on its way. It was only after I got the notification of tracking that I found out there was an extra charge.”
On top of Customs and VAT fees, some couriers charge additional "handling fees", such as Royal Mail’s £8 fee, which it says "reflects the cost of clearing items through customs and presenting them to Border Force".
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The new VAT model ensures goods from EU and non-EU countries are treated in the same way and that UK businesses are not disadvantaged by competition from VAT free imports. The new system also addresses the problem of overseas sellers failing to pay the right amount of VAT when they sell goods in the UK. We anticipate this will bring in £300 million in tax every year, to fund essential UK public services.
“Many EU businesses which currently sell goods to UK customers will have already registered for UK VAT under existing rules and HMRC is working very closely with those who haven’t to ensure they can comply with the changes.”