British buyers left confused over post-Brexit VAT and customs charges

Published 11 February 2021

Import duty and VAT rates continue to confuse buyers post-Brexit, with reports from readers of additional 30 fees on car parts ordered from Europe.

A reader recently got in touch to tell he was shocked to receive a customs import and VAT bill before the delivery of window seals ordered from Europe could be made. The extra fees, he said, were roughly 30 per cent of the value of the window seals - £170 for the parts plus the duty of £47.

Before Brexit, UK consumers were free to buy items from anywhere in the EU without incurring import duties and other charges. However, on 1 January 2021, a new system was introduced.

Online orders up to £135 are now supposed to have the UK’s VAT rate (usually 20 per cent) added at the point of sale by the EU retailer, which has to have registered with HM Revenue & Customs.

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It is reported that some EU retailers haven’t yet updated their methods - sending orders to the UK without having deducted the VAT. This has led to reports of couriers turning up on customer's doorsteps demanding the UK buyer pay the VAT owed on the item they are receiving.

Orders above £135 also have import duty tacked on, which can be up to 25 per cent of the item’s value. There are thousands of different rates of duty and the system appears to be causing confusion with UK consumers.

UK residents receiving a gift from Europe worth more than £39 could now face an import VAT bill at 20 per cent. Items below £135 bought through big online marketplaces will have had UK VAT added, so should be delivered with no extra charges demanded.


Ian mulcrone    on 11 February 2021

Good, hopefully this will encourage more domestic purchases and less imports

Thusfar    on 11 February 2021

We got what we voted for.....what a disaster!

Dorset123    on 22 February 2021

Just look at the mess the EU has made of the roll out of the vaccine and compare it to our roll out and you still think we should be in the EU ?

aethelwulf    on 11 February 2021

Items that I have bought from China have had none of this rubbish. Buy form China do not deal with the EU.They are a bunch of crooks.

philthunder    on 14 February 2021

And when China has monopolised the market selling cheap, and knocked out the competition watch the prices then!

   on 11 February 2021

We don’t belong in the EU anymore. The U.K. government bleated on about a special deal. All we have now is a stay of execution whilst transition periods wither away. They wanted all the benefits without membership. Would the good old institution that is the golf club allow a non member the same Teeing rights and parking space for non-members?
What is truly British built?
Rolls Royce? Bentley Mini Ford Vauxhall. Land Rover ? They may be able to negotiate a deal on parts but the likes of the normal person trying to maintain their classic car or modern day motor will be hit right between the wallet.

oldshaun    on 11 February 2021

Charge all imports from German and French producers a 50% surcharge. Watch the carmakers wake up, if they charge us just make sure we charge them. Also find suppliers outside Europe most parts are made in countries using slave labour (some call it low cost labour)

The BigMac    on 11 February 2021

VERY confused by this article. 30 extra taxes??? VAT, duty + import tax maybe, but what are the other 27? Can’t quite make sense of 30% of cost being fees - £170 cost with £47 duty?? The up to £135 cost/value is supposed to have UK 20% VAT added - does that mean that the European VAT is still being charged? THAT doesn’t half make it very expensive to purchase any item from outside our shores. Those items above £135 will be liable for import duty - so what amount of VAT (European and UK) could there be within that £135? What is/are the determining factor(s) that creates the variable import duty of up to 25%? IS this confusion entirely due to Brexit? If so, is it a result of what appeared a dose of Brinkmanship in getting a deal done OR was it an obvious consequence of our departing the EU market? I am not able to recall any warnings, prior to voting, that told me of such hefty increases in the buying of goods from EU, never mind the delays in receiving/sending goods outside our shores. British history shows the development of Britain by trading abroad, something we needed to do being an island. Our current ability to be self dependent is non-existent, which, allied to our lack of ownership of manufacturing and service provision, leaves us in the hands of foreign owners so struggling to control our future. At my age I can only see the ‘short’ term. Not too positive.

Howard Millichap    on 11 February 2021

HMRC needs to wind its neck in. To expect every producer all over the world to register for UK VAT is just ridiculous.

4caster    on 11 February 2021

VAT apart, the UK government is at liberty to charge zero import duties, and has shot itself in the foot in not doing so. Import duties are a tax, not on the exporting manufacturer, but on the UK consumer. They don't help home manufacturers and exporters either, because import levies always strengthen the currency of the country imposing them. We can see the £ has strengthened since the transition period ended, and that will make exports more difficult because they are more expensive. The rise of the £ will make imports cheaper at the port, partially offsetting the customs duty. I voted to leave the EU because I wanted free trade with friendly countries worldwide, which we would never get in the protective cartel called the European Union. The government is sleepwalking here.

Ian Noble    on 11 February 2021

Now I understand why the rest of the world refer to the EU as ‘fortress Europe’. The sooner we reassert ourselves as a global trader the better.

Graham Tucker    on 13 February 2021

It’s Boris & Co. that are applying the duty to these imports, not the EU so its Boris you need to criticise over this additional cost to the Uk consumer. Why does he need to levy a duty that wasn’t required pre-Brexit ?

Edited by Graham Tucker on 13/02/2021 at 08:21

moocmooc    on 12 February 2021

It's a similar situation here in Ireland when buying items delivered from the UK .... buyers now go to 'mainland Europe' & China......

hissingsid    on 12 February 2021

Although Britain will never return to being "The workshop of the world" we must try to rebuild as much of our manufacturing industry as we can. Our car plants may be foreign owned, but there is a place for smaller businesses to manufacture car components.

We must also stop importing food which we can grow ourselves, and stop exporting food which could be sold on the home market. There are businesses importing food, processing it here and then exporting the finished product. Such economic madness cannot be allowed to continue. Now that Britain is going it alone, which I voted for, we must learn to be more self sufficient.

retiredspeedmerchant    on 15 February 2021

I agree entirely!

BOB 1    on 12 February 2021

So where does the VAT go too, is it the UK or EU?

   on 13 February 2021

Imports from the EU will have duty added to the value of the purchase, if applicable, so £130 plus say 10% import duty is £143. Then add 20% import VAT of £28.60, next add the Post Office or Couriers handling fee which may be £10-15 or more. This final fee is to collect the import duty and VAT and pay it over to HMRC. So, the £130 purchase is now £181-186 or so on. The Import duty depends on the Tariff commodity code, for car parts it is or used to be 10%, anyone can check online to find the rates. If you import a book which has no duty or VAT, there shouldn't be an additional charges to pay. If you import from China and pay no duty or VAT, then check the "value" of the goods on the declaration, you may be pleasantly surprised at how little they appear to have cost...usually under the amount that duties become collectable. Just in case anyone thinks that Import Duties etc are a "Good Thing", they are as long as it isn't you that's paying them. The Pig's breakfast of Deals that have been made in "our name", aren't worth the paper they are written on, nor the grief to our importers and exporters. DJM ====

conman    on 13 February 2021

What people should remember is to ask the seller if the article has vat on it ,if buying new, When importing an item from abroad the item should be sold Vat free and that is why you pay vat when it enters this country. I would see if you could claim the Vat back from the EU.

A long time ago I bought a Citroen Picasso from the Netherlands, they have 2 taxes Vat and luxury tax on vehicles as I was exporting it to the UK instead of paying the total tax of 35% in the Netherlands I only paid 17% when I registered it in this country.
It may be the case now that it will be cheaper to import a vehicle again, depending the taxes of an EU country. If I remember rightly companies advertised to save you thousands of pounds by importing vehicles for you, even though you could do it yourself.
If I can remember the cost of the Picasso diesel here was around £15k no one would discount it , I paid £11.5k and had a nice holiday in Europe to boot.

tiger110    on 13 February 2021

If the seller correctly lists the item for UK market it should be zero Euro VAT .The UK customs then adds UK VAT plus import duty. Therefore the difference between when we were in the EEC and now should only be the import duty since we have always paid VAT whether the Europe one or our UK one. When importing ask for it to be supplied zero euro VAT, otherwise there is a danger you will pay UK VAT on top of the Euro tax when it arrives. It's the same in reverse for UK sellers who are entitled to deduct UK VAT when exporting.

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