James Daley: Postal charges go down to 'The Wire'
Saturday 30 August 2008
Joy and anger were united in a single moment for me this week, when I finally received Season 5 of The Wire in the post, only to discover that I'd also been fined £8 by Royal Mail for not paying the relevant import duties on my package.
I'd ordered the DVDs from the US branch of Amazon.com, as the box set was released in the States two weeks ago, but won't be available in UK stores until the end of next month.
Given that the DVDs cost less than $39 (£21) – with another $10 for postage across the pond – I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be subject to any import duties or taxes. I'm married to an American, and make regular trips to the States, so I've long been aware of the rules that say I can bring £145 of goods back home each trip, before I'll be hit with any kind of UK tax bill.
What I didn't realise was that when it comes to items sent in the mail, that limit is just £18 – or £36 if they're gifts from one private individual to another.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's no mention of any of this on Amazon's website at the time of purchase. There is, however, some info in the "Help" section of the site, which perhaps understandably says that import duties and taxes are the customer's responsibility and not theirs. Fair enough, I suppose, but it's a shame that this warning is not clearly posted at the point of sale, rather than buried somewhere in the depths.
If I'd known about my tax bill, I'd certainly never have had any problem paying it. The DVDs were much cheaper from the American Amazon site than they will be when they're released over here – even after the extra postage had been taken into account – so the £4.59 which I apparently owed in tax seemed a small price to pay for having my hands on the finale of my favourite TV show a whole month early.
But what really got me angry was having to pay Royal Mail an additional £8 admin charge for intercepting my package – a fine that I had no way of avoiding, as I was never once given the chance to pay my import duty beforehand.
Worst of all, this daylight robbery is sanctioned by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs department, which provides no way of pre-paying your import duty. On the HMRC website, it merely states that the Royal Mail (or courier company) may levy a charge for collecting the import duty.
This has to be a matter for the competition authorities. In today's global society, thousands of British people order goods from internet sites based outside the EU, so how can it be fair that consumers have no choice but to accept an £8 fine from Royal Mail, to pay a bill that they may have always been perfectly happy to pay? There's no alternative, no competition.
At the very least, Royal Mail should have to make its charges proportionate. You can send a letter from one side of the country to the other, and request a signature at the other end, for a couple of quid. So how can it justify an £8 charge for administering collection of a VAT bill?
The Office of Fair Trading is currently in court attempting to outlaw penal bank charges and I can see little difference between these unfair fees and Royal Mail's "international handling fee". The problem, perhaps, is that Royal Mail is still owned by the Government.
Fortunately, the tax threshold is rising to £120 in December, after which most small orders will not be caught out by this scam. But if you're ordering anything more valuable – be careful.
Compare with the Independent: See how much you could save by switching credit cards. Compare now
Simon Read: It's time for a clear line on soaring mobile phone charges
You asked for it - here's your praise of banks!
Simon Read: Here are some Budget changes George Osborne could make, but I don't hold out much hope in times of austerity
How to start your own internet business
Plymouth Energy Community's solar share scheme backed by council
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
- 3 Istanbul protesters take 'Ellen selfie' from the back of a police van
- 4 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Jet ‘hijacking’ began soon after take-off
- 5 Lady Gaga has struggled with eating disorders in the past, so it's indefensible that she's glamourising bulimia in her SXSW set
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
iJobs Money & Business
£35000 - £43000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Harrington Starr: A global lea...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Linux Systems Administrator - UNI...
£32000 - £36000 per annum + generous benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: * TAX * ...
£37000 - £40000 per annum + £20000 benefits package: Pro-Recruitment Group: **...
Day In a Page
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar
A newly refurbished one-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, close to Grosvenor Square
A charming four-bedroom house overlooking Burleigh Square Park, close to Thorpe Bay
A three-bedroom farmhouse with a large inglenook fireplace and exposed beams
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds
A four-bedroom chalet bungalow with three bathrooms and a spacious garden, £525,000
A two-bedroom flat with an open plan kitchen and two balconies, close to Arsenal station
A Grade II-listed home with six bedrooms, secluded landscaped gardens and views across Hadley Green
A Grade II-listed mansion with two apartments and a cottage, near Gretna Green
A three-bedroom Grade II-listed mews house with vaulted ceilings and roof garden