Consumers in Britain should be given a clearer idea of the costs they face when buying from EU retailers following Brexit so they are not left with unexpected fees or scammed, the consumer group Which? has said.
Since the transition period ended, many customers buying from the EU have faced bills for VAT and, when the item has been imported from another country first, import duties. On top of these costs, couriers have their own fees for handling the deliveries.
The consumer organisation said a lack of clear, well signposted information on import taxes and duties meant customers had been taken by surprise by fees on items they had ordered.
A survey carried out by Which? found that between the end of the transition period and 16 February, one in 10 people who had shopped online had been asked to pay additional handling or delivery fees.
Among those surveyed, the average charge was £41, and some people reported paying as much as £300.
On orders below £135, VAT should be collected by the retailer, but not all are registered with HM Revenue and Customs, meaning some customers are being asked for the payment on delivery.
Orders above that price can be liable for VAT and import duties, depending on the origin of the goods, and payments are being collected by couriers.
The Guardian has reported on a number of cases where shoppers have been hit by unexpected fees for items ordered before the Brexit deadline on 31 December, including a bike purchase that attracted a £2,000 bill.
Shoppers have also been hit with fees for returning items to retailers based in the EU. The consumer group said nine in 10 of those returning items said they had had issues such as delays, unexpected paperwork or extra charges.
Which? said the government and businesses should be clearer about the new costs. It highlighted an increase in scam texts purporting to be from firms such as Royal Mail claiming that a parcel was being held and the recipient needed to pay shipping fees. It said these were taking advantage of consumers’ uncertainty over post-Brexit import charges.
Adam French, a 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.”