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HMRC have issued a warning for Christmas shoppers to be aware of potential customs charges arising on certain goods purchased and imported from the EU due to changes that came into effect on 1 January 2021 when the Brexit transition period ended.

Potential charges that shoppers may notice include import VAT, excise duties and even handling fees charged by the couriers to release the goods.

HMRC have put together seven 'top tips' to help check whether they will be subject to any charges. 

  1. Where are you, the recipient, based?
    These changes affect people living in Great Britain but not those in Northern Ireland.
  2. Does your order contain excise goods?
    Items such as tobacco, alcohol or perfume are excise goods upon which excise duties are payable, no matter what the value of the goods. Import VAT will also be due and maybe, customs duty as well.
  3. Is your order worth more than £135?
    If your goods are not excise goods and, before shipping and insurance, cost less than £135, there will be no additional charges like Import VAT. UK VAT is instead collected at the point of sale by the seller. Goods valued in excess of £135 will attract import VAT and maybe customs duty. The item's seller will be best placed to inform you of the charges.
    If you already know that import VAT is due, check that this is not charged by the seller, as it may be charged twice otherwise.
  4. Remember, there may be charges for sending and receiving gifts!
    If a gift is received from the EU, import VAT will be due if the gift is valued at £39 or more. Over £135 in value and customs duty will also be due. A handling fee may also be charged, see Tip 5.
    If sending gifts, check with the relevant customs authority to see what the rules are. 
  5. How to know if charges are applied.
    The courier company should inform you of any charges due before they will release the item. They may require a handling fee to release the goods. However, the seller may arrange to pay the charges for you, so always check with them first.
  6. Check the guidance.
    HMRC has set out a simple guide on GOV.UK: see here.
  7. Check if your goods qualify for a zero tariff.
    Even if your goods are worth more than £135, but originate (or have been sufficiently worked on/processed) in the EU, a zero-tariff may apply, meaning no customs duty is due. The criteria are set out in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Import VAT will still be payable. If customs duty is due, it is best to contact the seller to determine what exactly is owed.

Useful guides on this topic

Place of supply: Goods
The place of supply (POS) of goods determines whether the supply is within the scope of UK VAT and whether VAT is payable on that supply.

International goods
Special VAT rules apply to goods bought from and sold to non-UK businesses.

Importing goods into GB from 1 January 2021
The post Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020. HMRC has issued guidance for importing goods

Online Marketplaces: Selling goods in the UK
When do you have to register for UK VAT? When is UK VAT payable? What amount is VAT payable on? What information do you have to give the marketplace provider? What will it do with that information?

External link

HMRC urges shoppers to be aware of post-Brexit changes before key Christmas shopping dates