Taxes, delays and brokerage fees: The grim reality of post-Brexit online shopping

Pricewatch: Shoppers waiting weeks for deliveries despite buying from Irish domains

Customers are facing extra taxes and charges, and delays to deliveries due to Brexit, despite some buying from Irish domain names. Photograph: iStock

Customers are facing extra taxes and charges, and delays to deliveries due to Brexit, despite some buying from Irish domain names. Photograph: iStock

 

“Sorry, we are unable to ship to Ireland now that we have left the EU. Once Ireland also leaves, we will be able to supply again,” read the note from an eBay seller called Jeremy when contacted by a would-be buyer from this part of the world in search of vacuum cleaner parts.

We know nothing about Jeremy but we’d still be happy enough to stake your house on him being a Brexit supporter. His – maybe tongue-in-cheek – response to a reader called Michelle Traynor neatly illustrates the difficulties many Irish people have been having since the start of the year as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU and we are all starting to get a real sense of what Brexit means.

It is pretty grim.

People shopping on websites based across the water are being hit with brick walls, high taxes, charges and absurd delays. They are finding out that products bought on sites which look as Irish as a bodhrán draped in a tri-colour banging out the Walls of Limerick can just as easily be shipped from Glasgow as Galway.

And even buying from the online operations of a patently Irish shop with a history of doing business in a physical sense in this country stretching back more than a 150 years can still prove unexpectedly difficult.

Currys/PC World

For more than a week now Pricewatch has been hearing from readers of Currys/PC World asking where in the world their products are and why they have to pay import taxes and charges on things bought from a retailer with a significant Irish footprint. They have faced unacceptably long delays and a wall of silence from the company’s customer service division.

When contacted by Pricewatch a spokeswoman for the retailer said that as a result of “a technical error, a small number of our customers in the Republic of Ireland have mistakenly been asked to pay import duty on their orders. We are contacting all affected customers to refund them any costs they may have incurred. We apologise wholeheartedly for the inconvenience.”

Addressing the delays the same spokeswoman said its delivery partner, DPD, had “paused all deliveries from the UK to ROI due to disruptions caused by Brexit. Unfortunately, this means our deliveries to ROI will be delayed. We have contacted all affected customers, and DPD has assured us they will receive their orders by January 22nd. We are grateful for our customers’ patience as we continue to work closely with DPD.”

Brexit-related teething problems were also blamed for dozens of Arnotts shoppers also being hit with additional taxes and charges after buying shoes on the Dublin-based department store’s website. The company apologised and said impacted customers would be reimbursed.

It would be nice to think that these were isolated incidents. But they are not. Last week we asked readers for their experiences of shopping online in a Brexit world and the responses were not slow in coming. Here are just some of the stories we have been told.

Screwfix

“Our screwfix.ie order of January 8th has been significantly delayed by Brexit which is particularly annoying as we chose screwfix.ie on assumption that we were ordering from an Irish retailer,” said Jason O’Brien. “This incorrect assumption was based on the .ie domain, the number of retail stores in Ireland and the Dublin address provided for the company. We did not realise that it was shipping from the UK until several days later when the package tracking details updated to ‘exported from the UK’,” he continued .

After two weeks of waiting for his order O’Brien rang Screwfix and was told his order was “stuck at Dublin port and expected to arrive next week. This will be 11-12 working days from placing the order. Having expressed my dissatisfaction with this delay, my attention was directed to the Brexit disruption banner on screwfix.ie which is intended to ensure customers are aware that their orders may be delayed.”

O’Brien said the banner did not say the orders from screwfix.ie are dispatched from the UK. “I expressed my opinion that this is misleading and the representative agreed that it would be a reasonable assumption to expect my order to be dispatched from an Irish location given the .ie domain, retail presence and Dublin contact address.”

On December 30th, David Greene ordered a small, oil-fired radiator from Screwfix at a cost of €35 and paid an additional fiver for one to two working-day delivery. He lives in Malahide, not a million miles from a Screwfix outlet in Swords but he figured it would be easier for the retailer to deliver it.

“Today is January 19th and still no sign of the radiator. Two emails to Screwfix have been answered – apparently the order went to their UK HQ and was filled from there. It was supposedly sent to their courier for dispatch, but the courier tracking service says it hasn’t been delivered to them yet. Screwfix say that the courier is facing a huge backlog of orders and just hasn’t managed to scan the package into their system yet, but three weeks later and no-one can tell me where my package is.”

And then there was Gareth who placed an order from ScrewFix.ie on January 6th, “purposely using their Irish domain, I received confirmation it was dispatched on January 7th and I am still awaiting its delivery. The latest update I have from the tracking online is that it ‘exported from the UK’ on January 10th.”

He was told by the company that it had “encountered some unforeseen issues with the additional customs data requirements, which has placed extra pressure on our turnaround and delivery times meaning that any orders placed from Saturday, January 2nd, 2021 have been delayed”.

“I knew there might be difficulties but this is getting a bit much now,” he said.

The White Company and DPD

These readers were not the only ones caught out by a company using a .ie address but shipping from the UK. “I ordered from a company calling themselves Baker Ross Ireland with an ie address , assuming that my order would be coming from within Ireland,” said Niamh Kenny. “I now discover that they have no presence whatsoever in Ireland, they’re based entirely in the UK and my order is now stuck with the couriers in UK who are experiencing problems due to Brexit”.

Then there was Cathy who ordered “some stuff from the White Company in early January – about €200 in value. The White Company says on their website that they pay duties for ROI companies, but I got a text and email from DPD on January 12th to say that €77 in duties, etc was due. I checked with the White Company, who said they would reimburse me, so I paid the duties using PayPal. The payment process ended in a blank screen which was odd, but a PayPal receipt came through so I assume the system glitched out.”

She tried to contact DPD to check the payment went through, which was when “the real problems started. It is virtually impossible to get through to them. Tweets, DMs, emails (to two different addresses), and finally, 30 mins on hold with HQ before getting through to a human. All she could do was say she would send an email to the Brexit team – which I had already done. The Brexit team did eventually write back with a one-liner that essentially says the payment is still outstanding – this is despite me sending them both the Paypal Receipt and a screenshot of my banking app showing the transaction.”

Another reader called Emma ordered from a company called made.com but it was cancelled due to Brexit “We’re very sorry to inform you that due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by Brexit; and the transporting of goods between Mainland UK and the whole of Ireland [sic] we have decided to take the difficult decision to cancel your order with us, and fully refund you. We understand this is extremely disappointing news; despite us working hard to try and find an alternative solution, we have been unable to secure a clear way to be able to fulfil our promise to you, and therefore we feel this is the most responsible course of action. We recognise we may have previously provided contrasting information, please accept our apologies for this.”

Aoife Pain contacted us last week to say she had been waiting for a “Dyson hoover” (don’t let James Dyson hear you call his machines a Hoover! ) ordered from Currys/PC World on December 28th. “We’ve had a moving feast of delivery dates since. My husband received a customs charges bill from DPD, which he called Curry’s about (as bought from the Irish site with no indication goods coming from UK) to be told that that was an error and to ignore, that the would arrive this week. Another demand for the customs charges came through yesterday which we have ignored. Still no sign of the hoover.”

Aoife also ordered a Boot Buddy boot brush (thank you Instagram) around the same time. She paid in euro. Aoife queried where it was around 10 days ago, at which point she spotted that it had in fact been returned to the seller by DPD. “They asked if I wanted them to issue a replacement to which I replied yes but asked for confirmation that they would deal with any VAT etc ,as my original order was placed and had been dispatched pre-Brexit so I felt that it shouldn’t be my responsibility. Customer service said they would query that internally. Have chased once in the meantime, still no meaningful response.”

She also bought some waterproof gloves for the kids from the Regatta.ie website on January 8th, and received an email on January 14th to say the items were dispatched, but “ ‘due to the longer than expected transition period from exiting the UK and entering Ireland, we are experiencing much longer delays than we would ordinarily experience’. Still no gloves. So, all in all, arrrrrrrrgggggghhhh!!” said Aoife.

Regatta, Oliver Bonas and Amazon

Another reader called Laura placed an order with Regatta Ireland on December 30th and two weeks later got an email “saying they were sorry for the delay and that I couldn’t track the parcel. DPD are the delivery company. Still can’t track it so no idea when it will be delivered.”

Alison was another person left at sea when shopping on the Regatta.ie site”It was very slow to be delivered but then I got an email to say it was stuck with DPD in UK customs. I was understandably surprised as I had tried to make sure I was buying from a company with an Irish base or even a grasp of what Brexit would mean for customs. Still no sign of the coat, I have been charged for it.”

“I’m another victim of Brexit import taxes,” started the mail from Kathryn Russell “I was asked to pay €85 tax on a personal delivery of swimwear (worth €200) from a UK company that I’ve used before. The Carrier was DHL. I refused to pay and requested DHL to return parcel to sender. I will definitely not make that mistake again! I’m sure you have received many stories like this?”

Next up was James, who ordered a part for his fridge from espares.ie and paid in euro. “I only discovered when the dispatch email notification arrived and it mentioned Royal Mail that they are based in the UK,” he said. “I told them to cancel it but it’s on the way so I can’t cancel and when I said I hadn’t realised they were in the UK because of the .ie domain this was their response: ‘Please note: our website indicates we are a UK-based company, which can be found in our contact us page.’” James said that few people go to the Contact Us page unless they have a problem,

On December 29th, a reader called Sophia ordered wallpaper from Wallpaperdirect knowing it was a UK-based site. “I will be honest, at the time of ordering I had forgotten about Brexit implications as they had this nice Graham and Brown wallpaper I had my eye on for some time, but is quite pricey and it was reduced, so I thought I would snap it up. I was also conscious of non-essential retail shutting on New Year’s Eve and I wouldn’t be able to browse local decorating shops to try track it down here.”

In early January she received a DPD tracking number from the seller and had been keeping an eye out, acknowledging it probably would take longer than normal. “Last week the tracking update changed to say DPD UK were returning it to the sender. I contacted the shop and after a couple of days they advised that DPD UK are still not shipping to Ireland and once the package is returned to them they will relabel and ship with UPS. However, they still haven’t received it from DPD. Absolute nightmare!”

Lloyd Courtney ordered something from the UK costing around €95, a price which included UPS shipping, at the start of January knowing that he would have to pay VAT on it. “This was fair enough as I’d looked into it and even with VAT it was a good deal. When UPS arrived at the door there was an additional €18 charge in addition to the VAT that the driver wasn’t able to explain – and to be fair, I didn’t expect him to know.”

When Lloyd called UPS he was told it “was a “brokerage fee” that not even the guy I spoke to was able to find anywhere on the UPS website. It just exists and you have to pay it, or they won’t hand over the package.”

Sligo artist Annie West had “a DHL guy arrived a week ago to deliver some equipment from the UK. It had a value of around €40 so VAT was applicable But instead of taking the money due he explained that he couldn’t take money and I had to call a phone number in Dublin and pay that way. Looking at the invoice it appears this was the same phone number for all and any DHL deliveries so I expected problems. So far I am a week in, several quids worth of hopeless phone calls, emails, contact filling (I don’t have an account with DHL so I’m already in trouble). I contacted the supplier in the UK about the extra charges, by the way, and they very helpfully refunded me that amount which I thought was generous of them. But still no sign of my stuff even though he had it in his van that day.”

“We are a bike shop based in Waterford City,” started the mail from Eamon Barrett. “We’ve had almost no deliveries from UK-based suppliers since we came back on January 4th. In the years pre-Brexit most international brands re-centralised their distribution for UK & Ireland to their UK head offices or ‘master’ distributors. This worked fine while the UK was in the EU but it seems they were woefully underprepared for the difficulties of Brexit. We would normally have deliveries every day of the week from the UK, now it’s basically nothing. Even very large brands are struggling to figure out the paperwork.”

And finally, for now, there was Vicki from Dublin. She emailed us to say she was waiting on an order from Oliver Bonas since December 29th. She was also waiting over three weeks for a new Revolut card and a Fit Bit strap “and going on two weeks for M&S and L’Occitane. The only UK retailer I’ve ordered from and received the order with no hassle is Asos, and that’s because it actually came from Germany! I ordered something from Amazon.de last night because I was told it’s quicker with no customs charges. Nightmare!”