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Brexit: Taxes and Charges for Parcel Delivery to France

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Post-Brexit rules have made receiving parcels from the UK more expensive, in the process causing widespread confusion and anger.

Since Brexit, the UK has lost the freedom of movement of goods to Europe. 

As a result, deliveries to France – including gifts and products ordered online – are now subject to customs and VAT controls. The additional administrative tasks have also lead to new handling charges and higher postage charges.

In short, there are now potentially four additional charges for delivery to France and to the UK (excluding Northern Ireland, although that might soon change!) :

  • Customs Duty;
  • VAT;
  • Handling Charge;
  • Postage/Delivery Charge.

Letters are not subject to customs clearance and La Poste letter tariffs have not increased specifically as a result of Brexit, although they are rising at a startling rate.

The rules for when charges should be applied and how much they should cost for households are as follows:

i. Customs Duties

Under the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement only goods produced outside of the UK or EU are liable to excise duty. These 'rules of origin' terms provide that on goods which originate from the UK no duties are payable. 

In addition, customs duty is not due for goods sent to France provided directly to the buyer when their value does not exceed €150. No duty is payable on goods to the UK from France provided their value does not exceed £135.

Goods sent between individuals are exempt from customs duties (and VAT), provided that the value of the goods does not exceed €45.

Nevertheless, to obtain exemption there is a need to 'prove' the value and country of origin of the goods. This may be fairly simple to do for cheaper, smaller items, but becomes more complicated for larger, more expensive goods. 

Customs duties payable should be added to online orders at the time of payment and to parcels at the time of postage.

The customs declaration form to be attached to the outside of the package will need to state the country of origin and value in order to benefit from preferential treatment.

The form for use from France is Douane Déclaration CN23. The form can also be found at Déclaration en douane CN23 (Formulaire). It is not easy to understand so if you are sending goods to the UK you might wish to complete at the post office with the assistance of the counter clerk. Alternatively, use a courier who provides a customs clearance service.

The form for use from the UK is Customs Declaration.

Customs officials in the UK and France do carry out spot checks on parcels to check that the outside label matches up with the products inside, although due to a lack of resources and fraud, some packages will escape clearance formalities. This is likely be more common with national postal services rather than private delivery companies.

ii. VAT Charges

Goods sent into the EU are subject to the payment of import VAT, regardless of whether the goods are zero-rated for customs duties. The applicable rate is that of the country to where the goods are being sent. In the case of France the general rate is 20%.

This means that goods sent from the UK to France and vice versa are not subject to the 'output' VAT from the country of supply. Instead, 'import' VAT is paid in the country of receipt.

Prior to July 2021, VAT was only applied to goods worth over €22 (excepting tobacco, alcohol and perfumes), but in line with new European laws introduced to combat fraud and establish a uniform set of rules across Europe, the threshold has been abolished for products delivered from all over the world – including the UK. The change is only indirectly the result of Brexit.

French VAT is normally paid at the time of purchase when buying goods online, along with customs duties if applicable. The VAT paid by the buyer must be stated on the invoice. However, a seller from the UK may sell goods 'ex VAT', when it is then left to a delivery company to collect the VAT. You need to check at the time of the order. Some readers have told us they have been caught paying VAT in both countries as the supplier as not undertaken the proper formalities.

VAT can also be applied to parcels from the UK containing gifts with a value of €45 (£39) and over.

iii. Handling Charges

Under normal circumstances, as we have stated, duties and taxes should be paid by the sender at the time of purchase or postage. Thus, most of the leading on-line sellers undertake customs and VAT clearance (called dédouanée in French).

However, some sellers may not comply with it, whilst others hand it over to a courier/shipping agent who offers a customs brokerage service. 

Indeed, as a result of the complexity of the process and the additional administrative costs involved, many UK suppliers no longer deliver to France.

Many of you have reported to us that before a parcel is delivered you have been asked to make extra payments, even to sometimes having to hand over a cheque to a driver from a private delivery company. La Poste also impose a charge.

The charges are described as a 'handling/processing/clearance fees' to cover the administrative costs of extra paperwork. If VAT and customs duty have not been paid before a parcel arrives in France, some companies will also hold the parcel in warehouse and charge 'collection fees' and 'late fees' when recipients go to collect them.

Some readers have reported receiving bills after weeks after parcels containing gifts have been delivered, with the cost being the same or greater than the value of the gift.

For private companies there is no common basis to how the charges are calculated. In the case of the national postal operator, La Poste, under European rules Member States cannot impose charges related to customs clearance higher than the actual costs incurred.

Some deliveries slip through the net, but this is simply due to a lack of customs resources to check and verify all parcels.

If charges are payable, they will need to be paid when the parcel arrives in France in order for it to be delivered.

Normally, private delivery companies will directly contact buyers who need to do this.

In some cases, recipients can also pay customs duties online via French national postal service La Poste’s website or in person at a post office in order to receive the delivery. Delivery companies also have their own on-line arrangements.

There are also many reports of late delivery of parcels, generally caused by the additional administrative tasks that suppliers and couriers now need to undertake.

iv. Postage Charges

As a result of the new rules, some couriers have also increased delivery costs for parcels travelling between France and the UK, sometimes referred to as a 'Brexit Surcharge'.

La Poste also now impose a €3 supplement on parcel deliveries to the UK, irrespective of weight. You can see the tariffs at Guide to French Postal Services. 

Scams

As various new fees are introduced, multiple scams have also been reported.

La Poste has warned customers against phishing scams in which people waiting for parcels are sent fraudulent emails, seemingly from French customs officials, asking for VAT payments to be made via purchasing a PIN number online.

As usual, caution should be taken before you click on a link. Customs officials will never contact you by SMS or email to ask you to pay taxes for a parcel.

Online commentators have also reported similar scam messages asking for extra payments seemingly sent from delivery services such as DHL.

Consumer Protection

Aside from charges, if you are buying goods from the UK, you need to be aware that you no longer benefit from EU consumer protection, as these will be covered by UK laws, and in the event of a dispute it may well be more difficult to resolve. There are also additional complications in claiming back customs duty and VAT on refunds.

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