You buy an item from an international seller and expect to pay the VAT. Which is fine because that is a legal requirement. However, Parcelforce and Royal Mail have taken it upon themselves to earn extra cash by paying the customs and VAT on your behalf and then charging you for that service. A service which you never asked for.
Sometimes the charge that Parcelforce and Royal Mail apply is more than the customs and VAT amount due! Being a citizen of AsHappyAs means I have learnt not to be made a mug of and I refuse to pay such extortionate fees which are illegal and immoral.
If you are faced with this situation, I recommend that you first contact the holding depot and tell them you are prepared to pay the customs and VAT charges but not Parcelforce's clearance fee. You can also tell them that holding your package hostage is illegal and you will inform the police.
If they don't release your package then you'll probably get an ignorant reply like this:
"The charges on your parcel are Customs duty and/or VAT. Goods sent from non-EU states, both new and used for business and personal use, as well as from Mail Order companies are liable to attract Customs charges.
A part of this charge is the clearance/handling fee which is payable to Parcelforce Worldwide. This charge is to cover the administration when Customs raise a charge on imported goods.
If you have an enquiry related to customs or any other taxes or duties, please contact HMRC through the website www.hmrc.gov.uk and search: 'Notice 143'. Guidance is also published on the business link www.businesslink.gov.uk - please search for 'portal import'. You can also write to the UK Border Agency using form BOR286 which can be found within the HMRC Notice 143.
Any refund of the VAT and/or Customs duty, if applicable, will be made to you directly by HMRC. HMRC will also refund the clearance/handling fee if applicable.
Please note that Parcelforce Worldwide cannot deal with enquiries relating to the raising or setting of VAT or import duties."
I have highlighted the part which says it is an administration charge from Parcelforce - not HMRC - for paying the customs charges on your behalf. But your contract is not with Parcelforce, it is with the seller you purchased from.
Regardless, Parcelforce and Royal Mail will refuse to deliver your item and hold it hostage until you pay the bogus charges. At this point you can do two things:
- Pay the fees
- Don't pay the fees and the item goes back
But there is a third option.
I went with option 1 and paid the fees using a credit card (American Express in my case - their customer service is top notch by the way) but when I did so I clearly stated that I was "paying under protest". I also recorded the phone call using a call recorder app in case it was needed as evidence further down the line.
What is paying under protest?
Paying under protest is where circumstances dictate that you have to pay to resolve a situation, but you are dissatisfied with the service and will seek to recover it back at a later date. So although you have paid, the payment cannot be considered an indication of satisfaction.
You can write 'paid under protest' on the back of a cheque or over a recorded phone call. If you paid by card online, then you can send an email or letter stating the payment was made under protest.
Getting your money back
Because you paid under protest, you can contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. Not the entire charge, just the clearance/admin fee, because all customs and VAT charges for imports still have to be paid.
Let your card company know that you've been charged an incorrect amount for services you didn't ask for. Any decent card company will decide in your favour and refund you the amount.