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Consumers face demands for delivery fees of up to £300 amid post-Brexit confusion, Which? reveals

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Which? is calling on the government and businesses to make the new costs of buying from EU-based retailers clear and increase the public’s awareness of these changes so consumers are not left with unexpected fees or scammed into paying unnecessary charges.

For many consumers, import charges and confusing returns policies have made shopping with EU retailers after Brexit much more difficult than it used to be.

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

While delays were the most common issue cited by those who ordered products online – with one in four people (24%) experiencing delays – the consumer champion’s research revealed that one in ten people (11%) have been asked to pay additional handling or delivery fees.

Which?’s survey showed the average charge was £41, with some people paying up to £300.

A lack of clear, accessible and well signposted information on how online shopping has been affected since the end of the Brexit transition period means many of these new charges and processes haven’t been communicated clearly and have come as a shock to consumers.

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Which? is calling on the government and businesses to make these new costs clear to consumers so they are not left out of pocket.

The government must work to make the processes for how these costs are charged as simple as possible for both businesses and consumers. 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? has received multiple queries from consumers on this issue and has regularly published the most up to date information available on the charges consumers can expect when shopping from the EU.

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

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 will also have to pay additional customs duties. This is because the product originates from outside the EU, so the zero-tariff preference between the UK and EU does not apply.

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The rules differ for shoppers in Northern Ireland due to its unique position of remaining within the EU’s Single Market, meaning it remains aligned with EU VAT rules for goods.

UK consumers can also be charged additional delivery fees for items from the EU. Each courier has a different policy on what they charge and how they ask you to pay.

pexels-photo-5076511.jpeg
Do you know where your goods are bing shipped from? You could be liable for extra fees say consumer organisation Which? (Image: cottonbro)

Simon Potthast, a musician and producer, ordered a software and hardware package costing £603 from music production company Ableton for work. He then got an email from UPS when the parcel reached the UK port of entry saying there were import fees due for £112.55.

Ableton, who are based in Germany, added a message to the checkout on their website on 16th February 2021 warning that their physical products do not include VAT for UK consumers and that there may be a small paperwork fee on delivery. These fees would also apply to products brought from other companies in the EU.

However, when Simon placed his order on 18th March, he didn’t realise his order was being shipped from Germany or that he would incur additional charges.

He said: “I’ll be more careful now. If I’d known about the charges I would have found a UK distributor for the items so all the charges would have been included when I paid.”

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There is also a risk that without clarity around the charges consumers should expect when shopping from the EU, people could be misled or scammed into paying extra costs.

A recent surge in ‘Royal Mail’ scam texts claiming that a parcel is being held due to an unpaid shipping fee shows that fraudsters are taking advantage of consumers’ uncertainty over post-Brexit import charges.

If in any doubt over texts or emails from courier services, consumers should not enter any personal details and should contact the delivery firm directly to confirm if it is genuine. Suspicious texts or emails can be reported to the courier and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Some shoppers have also experienced difficulties when returning items to the EU. Which?’s research found an overwhelming nine in ten (87%) people who have returned items between 1 January and 16 February have experienced issues such as delays, unexpected paperwork or extra charges.

To make a return to the EU, consumers now need to complete a customs declaration form and to include the item’s description, weight and value. The customs charge is paid for by the recipient upon delivery.

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However, this new process has not been made clear by all retailers, leaving some consumers unsure of how to send items back.

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Daniele from Worthing had a frustrating experience with Footlocker EU, based in the Netherlands, after trying to return a pair of trainers that were initially delayed at customs.

UPS told him to fill out a returns form but he couldn’t find one on Footlocker’s website. He found a form on UPS’ website but was still unclear how to fill it out.

Eventually, he received help from UPS, but Daniele was disappointed with Footlocker’s service: “Retailers really need to have something in place to assist us – did I really need to go through all of this just to return something?”

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Brexit has affected many aspects of how UK consumers interact with EU merchants. For example, if consumers have an issue with a product bought from an EU-based business – because it’s faulty or the pricing was misleading – they are very unlikely to be able to enforce their consumer rights through the UK courts as was previously the case. They may need to pursue the issue with consumer protection authorities or through the courts in the country where the business is based.

UK authorities will also no longer be able to take part in coordinated enforcement activities against companies who breach the law in multiple markets or have access to the same level of intelligence from the EU.

In Which?’s Beyond the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Priorities for consumers paper, the consumer champion details what the Trade and Cooperation Agreement means for UK consumers in a number of key areas and how the government should prioritise consumer interests.

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert said: “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.

“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.”

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Each courier has a different policy on what they charge and how they ask you to pay.

Delivery firmChargesPayment method
UPSDue to the increased transportation, customs and brokerage, and network adjustment costs associated with goods movements in and out of the UK, brokerage fees are now applicable. You can find more info on these charges in UPS’ country specific Tariff Guides and its Brexit guide.UPS will try to phone in advance. If it can’t get through or doesn’t have contact info, it’ll ask you to pay in cash upon delivery. If you don’t have cash, it’ll ask you to pay over the phone and will redeliver the next day.
Royal MailFor gifts over £39 and goods over £135, Royal Mail may collect the VAT and customs duties on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) from the recipient prior to delivery. Royal Mail charges an £8 handling fee to do so.You’ll be sent a Fee to pay card, which shows how much you need to pay before you can receive your item. The easiest way to pay a fee is online. You have 21 days from the date on the ‘Fee to pay’ card to clear the charges. If you miss this deadline the item will be returned to the sender. If you’re paying online, you need to pay within 19 days of the date. Once paid, your item will be delivered or you can collect the item in person.
DPDA £5 ‘Customers Clearance Fee’ is applied to parcels incurring import duty and tax payment transactions, to cover DPD’s additional processing costs.Recipients are notified by email or text, with a web link to pay by card or paypal. Payment must be made online before delivery is attempted.
DHL ExpressDHL Express says it is charging UK customers 2.5% of the amount paid to clear customs, with a minimum charge of £11.DHL Express is yet to confirm with Which? how it collects its payments.
HermesHermes UK have not introduced additional costs directly for this model. Our inbound parcels from the EU entering the Hermes UK network have the duty/tax costs cleared ahead of arrival into the HUK network.Hermes UK do not ask customers to pay additional import or delivery charges.This is controlled by the retailers and depends on the terms of sale.Hermes UK do not take payment from customers for delivery or customs charges.
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Ableton

Ableton told Which? that they take additional charges for UK customers extremely seriously. Ableton have tried to ensure that all customers purchasing hardware directly from them are aware that there will be additional VAT and handling charges.

Ableton has made this explicit on their website during the purchase journey – before UK customers are able to buy hardware products. Ableton is very keen to make this clearer if customers like Simon are still finding themselves in this situation. They recommend purchasing from a UK based retailer to get Push without paying additional charges.

Footlocker

A Footlocker spokesperson said: “We’re sorry to hear about the issues Daniele experienced in receiving his sneakers and returning his items. On this occasion, one of the items the customer ordered was only available from our warehouse in the Netherlands, which unfortunately, due to delays associated with Brexit, became stuck in transit. We contacted all our UK customers to keep them updated. We apologize for the issues Daniele faced using our chat function as well as printing his return label which was a technical issue and has now been resolved. We have spoken to Daniele to support him on resolving the issue and have also offered a gesture of goodwill for any future orders.”

UPS

UPS told Which? that they endeavour to contact customers in advance of scheduled deliveries so that any outstanding payments can be made using a card over the phone.

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UPS recommends that businesses alert their customers when shipments are subject to customs duties and taxes payable by the recipient. Additionally, due to the increased transportation, customs and brokerage, and network adjustment costs associated with goods movements in and out of the UK, brokerage fees are now applicable. For further details on UPS’ brokerage and delivery fees, customers can refer to their country specific tariff guides.

UPS recommends that customers get in touch with their retail provider for advice on completing documentation for return shipments.

(Lead image: PhotoMIX Company)


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Welsh and UK Governments agree to establish Freeports in Wales

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The Welsh Government has reached agreement with the UK Government on the establishment of Freeports in Wales.

Welsh Ministers have agreed to support Freeport policies in Wales following the UK Government’s agreement to meet the Welsh Government’s demands that UK Ministers provide at least £26m of non-repayable starter funding for any Freeport established in Wales, which represents a parity with the deals offered to English Freeports.

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The UK Government have agreed to meet a number of other demands – including that both Governments will act on the basis of a ‘partnership of equals’ to deliver any Freeports in Wales.

In addition, both Governments have agreed a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated clearly it will operate in a manner that aligns with the Welsh Government’s policies on fair work and environmental sustainability, including the commitment to Wales becoming a net-zero carbon nation.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “Following considerable engagement between our Governments, I’m pleased we have been able to reach agreement with UK Ministers to establish Freeports in Wales. The agreement we have reached is fair to Wales, and respects the Welsh Government’s responsibilities in devolved policy areas.

“However, we have made it clear to the UK Government that a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated, using robust evidence and analysis, that it will support our fair work agenda and deliver long-term, sustainable benefits for Wales, and value for money for Welsh taxpayers.

“I very much hope that the UK Government’s willingness to work with the Welsh Government as equals on Freeports can provide a positive model for future co-operation between our governments on other initiatives.”

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The UK Government’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove said: “I am delighted that Wales is the latest area in the UK set to benefit from a new Freeport.

“The UK Government’s ambitious Freeports agenda will help to level up our coastal communities and create new opportunities for people right across the country.

“Together with the Welsh Government, I look forward to seeing innovative proposals come forward that demonstrate tangible benefits for the people of Wales.”

In addition, Welsh and UK Ministers have agreed that the UK Government will provide tax incentives for Freeports in Wales in parity with Freeports in other parts of the United Kingdom for the reserved taxes that have been designated to advance the policy aims. The Welsh Government will design tax reliefs from local and devolved taxes (Non-Domestic Rates and Land Transaction Tax) to support the policy aims.

Both Governments say they will remain open to the possibility of a multi-site Freeport in Wales. In recognition of Wales’ unique economic geography and the Welsh Government’s aspirations for economic development in Wales, the UK Government is willing to relax the 45 km boundary limit for a multi-site Freeport solution, should there be a sufficiently compelling case for doing so.

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Both Governments will also remain open to the possibility of allowing more than one Freeport in Wales, should they be presented with a sufficiently compelling business case.

As with English Freeports, a fair and open competitive process will be used to determine where the policy should be implemented in Wales. Both Governments will work together to co-design the process for Freeport site selection, and both will have an equal say in all decisions throughout the implementation process. This includes the final decision on site selection.

Both Governments have begun the process of designing the bid prospectus for the competition and further details about the timing of next steps will be released in due course.

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Swansea digital agency iCreate enters the metaverse with bespoke digital environments

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Swansea-based creative agency iCreate is entering the metaverse by creating 3D visual environments for Dubai-based NFT boutique Jumi – a new outlet for curated digital art.

The metaverse hit the headlines last year when Facebook’s parent company rebranded to Meta, reflecting the growing potential of the internet to offer an interactive virtual world through AI and 3D digital animation.

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The metaverse offers social connection through technology, interaction with brands and businesses, and online recreation.

It encompasses everything from online video games to virtual shops where you can digitally try on items before you buy them, and bespoke venues for online events of all kinds.

It’s expected to expand into an online world where people will have their own virtual avatars which they take from one virtual environment to another, purchasing virtual products for them and housing them in virtual homes.

This is where iCreate – which specialises in creating digital environments – comes in. The company provides CGIs, 3D flythrough animations, VR tours and marketing brochures to the off-plan property sector.

From interactive, customisable home interiors that enable buyers to plan every detail of their dream home, through to large-scale digital animations of new housing developments, iCreate is adept at creating virtual environments that look and feel like the real thing.

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Now it’s teaming up with Jumi and other partners to create digital environments that will never be built in the real world, but will exist in the metaverse, where people’s avatars can explore and socialise in them.

A key aspect of the metaverse is non-fungible tokens (NFTs): digital assets that can be bought and traded. These are increasingly hitting the headlines as everyone from independent artists to big brands creates and sells digital-only products, music, artwork and more.

Dawn Lyle (right) and the team at iCreate

Jumy, which completed a $1.2M seed funding round last year, is the ultimate NFT boutique marketplace for exclusive digital art. All artworks are curated from the world’s most creative digital artists, to guarantee outstanding quality.

The platform is the world’s first to offer a fully integrated digital art experience where visitors will be able to purchase pieces with payment cards, trade their NFTs, order NFT frames (digital frames for NFT art) and flex their NFTs on metaverse – all in one place.

By collaborating with Jumi, iCreate will make beautiful, exclusive digital environments for displaying NFTs in the metaverse. From here, it’s expected that a new market in bespoke virtual homes and offices will develop over the coming years, as more aspects of all our lives are lived in the metaverse.

Dawn Lyle, iCreate’s co-founder, said: “We’re delighted to have formed this new partnership with Jumi and to be taking our bespoke digital environments into the metaverse.

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“The metaverse offers such a wealth of possibilities, and over the coming years it will become increasingly common to play, meet and do business with people all over the world in virtual settings.

“We’re excited to be creating stunning digital environments in which these activities can take place; in the metaverse, there are no limitations and it’s possible to bring dreams to life, creating astonishing virtual places that delight and surprise. It gives us the opportunity to put all our creative skills to use in exciting new ways and we can’t wait to get started.”

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River Island launches its brand new Swansea concept store this weekend

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Fashion chain River Island is revealing its brand new concept store at Morfa Retail Park in Swansea on Saturday (7 May).

Located at the former New Look store at Unit 6 on the Brunel Way shopping centre, the new store is just a few doors down from its previous outlet, although promises to be an even bigger and better boutique shopping experience.

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Located across two floors, the 8,253 square foot store has been specially curated to the tastes of Swansea shoppers according to the fashion chain.

Set across one level, womenswear will occupy just over half the space, with the remainder split between menswear and kidswear, stocking kids, mini and baby.

To celebrate the new opening, River Island will be hosting a launch event weekend in-store on the 7th and 8th of May, where shoppers can expect to hear celebratory sounds with in-store DJ sets, whilst the first lucky 100 customers through the doors will receive a £10 gift card which can be redeemed in-store or online.

Frances Baker, River Island Property Director said: “River Island is thrilled to be relocating and open ing a new boutique store in Swansea, Morfa as part of our segmentation programme.

“We are excited to introduce our concept store to our existing loyal customers, with exciting opportunities to acquire new customers with our new look-and-feel store.”

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River Island say the store upgrade strengthens its 300 strong estate and solidifies its message of “standing by the high street”, a campaign set up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to show solidarity with other high street brands negatively hit by the effects of the pandemic.

The fashion chain say that by investing in finding ways to encourage and entice customers to return to in-person shopping it hopes to “enhance and improve the shopping journey for its customers”.

(Lead image: River Island)

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