An Post row with UK Post Office causing return of online purchases

Implementation of post-Brexit customs rules triggers dispute among post office groups

A row has broken out between An Post and the UK’s Post Office about the implementation of post-Brexit customs rules, which are leading to thousands of online purchases by Irish customers being returned each day to smaller British retailers.

An Post chief executive David McRedmond said it is “extraordinary” that the UK’s Post Office has yet to invest in the technology needed to add certain digital codes on to packages that are dropped off at local offices by SMEs. The codes, which store information on the contents of the package and whether duty and taxes are prepaid, are obligatory under new European Union rules for postal packages sent in from outside the European Union.

Mr McRedmond accused the UK Post Office of not looking after the interests of its own citizens and SMEs, because its inability to add the codes to packages sent to the Republic from British post offices was, he said, damaging trade for small British businesses that sell to Irish customers online.

“It is crazy. It isn’t complicated. I do not know why the post office hasn’t implemented the system. It must act in British citizens’ interests,” he said.


Mr McRedmond had a letter published in British newspaper the Financial Times on Monday, in which he blamed the issue for contributing towards a 52 per cent decline in postal trade between Ireland and Britain. The letter sparked fury within the UK Post Office, which contacted An Post in Dublin to complain. The UK Post Office, a state-owned entity, insists the codes are the responsibility of the separate, privately owned Royal Mail, which runs the delivery of items left into post offices.

The row revolves around an EU system for postal packages known as Customs 2020, which sets rules for deliveries from countries outside the bloc. It applies to Britain since it left the EU. Ireland was the first country to be asked to implement the Customs 2020 regime, following Brexit.

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The rest of Europe is due to implement the same system next month. Mr McRedmond said that unless the UK Post Office invests in the necessary technological infrastructure to add the digital codes at local post offices, the “disruption with Ireland will be repeated with every other EU country”. He called upon the British government to order its Post Office to implement Customs 2020.

“If a package is dropped off at a local British post office from, say, a Norfolk jam company for postal delivery to an Irish customer, that post office should have the system set up to give the code,” Mr McRedmond told The Irish Times.

“If not, when the package gets to us, it isn’t recognised by the machine. Irish customs will insist on inspecting it. We’ll have to collect the duty. It causes a nightmare and what happens most often is that the package just gets returned.”

Mr McRedmond said An Post met the UK Post Office last year and asked it to implement the system, but it still hasn’t happened. He said he understands there may be a dispute between the UK Post Office and the Royal Mail about how the implementation of Customs 2020 should be financed.

The UK Post Office said it was “surprised” by Mr McRedmond’s comments. A spokesman insisted the issue is the responsibility of Royal Mail and added that he “doesn’t know how easy it is to just implement an IT system”.

In a follow-up statement, the Post Office said: “While many parcels that arrive in Ireland will never have been dropped off at a post office, our branches follow the custom label process set by Royal Mail. They collect parcels for onward delivery and are responsible for ensuring what they deliver is compliant with customs rules … Post Office is working with Royal Mail to develop and improve the processes when it comes to sending a parcel to the Republic of Ireland.”

Royal Mail did not respond to a request for comment.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times