HMRC have issued warnings to customers to be mindful that they may come across unexpected goods charges when buying goods from the EU in the run-up to Christmas.

These rule changes came into effect on 1st January 2021, upon the completion of the UK’s departure from the EU Single Market and Customs Union, and mean that some goods purchased from EU countries may incur costs in the same way that consumers have previously had to pay for items bought from non-EU countries.

HMRC’s top tips

HMRC have outlined seven key points which will allow people to determine whether or not there will be charges on their purchased goods:

  1. Be aware of where you are based

If you are in Northern Ireland, you will not be affected by these changes due to the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, if you are based in Great Britain, you will potentially be liable for the charges.

  1. Check if your order contains goods subject to excise duties, such as tobacco, alcohol, or perfume

Unlike other items, there is no lower threshold for customs charges when it comes to goods such as the above. This means there will be charges due no matter the value or origin of your goods, so be prepared to have to pay.

  1. Check if your order is worth more than £135, before extra costs, such as shipping, and insurance are applied

Smaller orders, which total below £135 are exempt from EU duty charges. However, if your purchase exceeds this amount, you will need to pay import VAT and may need to pay customs duty.

  1. Remember there are new charges if you are sending presents overseas – or if you receive a gift from abroad

If you receive a gift that is valued at less than £39 and it does not contain the aforementioned excise goods, you will not have to pay import VAT or customs duty. However, anything more than this amount, and you will be liable to pay import VAT, and also customs duty if the value exceeds £135.

Furthermore, you may also be required to pay a ‘handling fee’.

On the other hand, if you are planning to send gifts to somebody in the EU, it would be sensible to check the rules and potential charges of their specific customs authority before you send.

  1. Be aware of how and when you could be notified of charges

If you need to pay customs charges, you should be contacted by the courier who will advise you of the fees.

On some occasions, the seller may include the fees in the price of your item and arrange to pay them on your behalf upfront. However, ensure you have checked this with the seller so that you are not caught off-guard by unexpected charges.

  1. Check the guidance available to you

HMRC have published a guide containing useful information on how to dispute a charge, return any unwanted goods and get a refund on the customs charges.

  1. Check with the seller whether the goods originated in the EU, and whether they qualify for a zero-tariff

Due to something called the Rules of Origin, there are ways to get around paying customs duties. If the goods you are buying originated in the EU (or have been sufficiently worked or processed within the EU), the seller confirms this for you, and the zero-tariff is claimed on the customs declaration, you will not need to pay the customs charges. However, import VAT will still be due, so ensure you do not forget this.

As always, if you would like any further information regarding the above, please feel free to contact our offices by email