A MILLION consumers in rural Scotland are still being hit by unfair delivery charges of up to four times the standard rate, a consumer group has warned.
A report, the latest in a long-running campaign by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), found that while fewer online retailers impose surcharges for delivery to the Highlands and Islands, those who do charge more than they did three years ago.
People living in the Highlands now pay 17.6 per cent more than in 2012 and those in the Islands pay 15.8 per cent more. However, the study found that fewer retailers now refuse to deliver to remote areas than was the case in 2012, while fewer add a surcharge.
The report argued that higher costs to deliver goods to rural areas such as Wales and Cornwall are absorbed into overall charges, while only the Highlands and Islands are singled out for higher charges.
Today’s publication of the report comes as MPs are due to debate the issue in the House of Commons this evening.
CAS has called for the UK government to ensure it uses the Consumer Rights Act to support business education about the requirements under the Consumer Contracts Regulations and consider whether consumers can be better served in the parcel delivery market by revising the Universal Service Obligation to take account of the increased importance of parcels in the modern world.
It has also demanded that the Scottish Government considers extending the Road Equivalent Tariff fare structure – which offers lower cost ferry fares on the Scottish Islands – to cover vehicles over six metres in length, in order to help reduce the costs of delivering goods to the islands by ferry.
Sarah Beattie-Smith, spokeswoman for Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “The problem of high delivery charges for consumers in rural and remote areas continues to cause hardship for people right across Scotland, impacting higher in the Scottish Highlands and Islands more than in other areas of the UK.”
She added: “Scots in rural areas understand that it costs a little more to deliver to remote areas, but this report shows that surcharges add to a “rural premium” and can have a serious impact on businesses and the rural economy.”
The report found that only 3.8 per cent of retailers surveyed excluded some part of the Highlands from their delivery offering, while 10.9 per cent excluded some part of the Scottish Islands.
Business minister Fergus Ewing said: “Despite these minor improvements, we still find customers in the Highlands and Islands facing disproportionate costs when it comes to the delivery of their purchases.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills said: “This report rightly highlights the need for online businesses to provide clear information about their delivery charges to consumers.”