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How I got back tax wrongly charged on gift sent to France from UK

Like thousands of other people in France, our reporter had the nasty experience of a postman demanding tax be paid on Christmas presents before they were handed over

Many people have wrongly had to pay 'customs' charges when receiving items sent from outside of the EU Pic: iJeab / Shutterstock

La Poste has now recognised it was a mistake and pledged that the amount handed over will be repaid, along with costs of €5.50 incurred by the sending of a registered letter with proof of delivery.

This is how it happened:

Our postman drove into our courtyard, something which is unusual as he almost always leaves letters and parcels in or by our postbox at the top of the drive, and I could see from my wife’s body language that something was not right.

When I went out, she explained that the postman had a present to deliver from her sister in Oxfordshire, addressed to both of us, but he would not deliver it unless we paid €12 in tax.

Read more: High tax and customs fees on gifts sent to France from outside EU

Gift box was ticked on the customs declaration and the value listed as £19.99

I looked at the delivery, in a post service international tracked envelope, and saw that the contents, valued at £19.99 and listed, were clearly stated as a gift, with the gift box ticked on the customs declaration.

Postage was €12.06, and the label and customs declaration had been printed and paid for using a Royal Mail’s Click & Drop system, which with the closure of many Crown post offices in the UK, is now a common way for letters and parcels to be sent.

I pointed this out to the postman but he was adamant that tax had to be paid on the spot or the parcel would be taken back.

Computer error cited as leading to wrong tax demands

In the 10 minute argument which followed I mentioned the excellent story on the subject by The Connexion’s Liv Rowland and an article in the French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé. In both La Poste admitted that a computer error was leading to wrong tax demands on many packages. (Le Canard had been contacted by furious French people who had been forced to pay exorbitant taxes on presents from family in Quebec, including on little packets of maple syrup sweets sent as a family tradition from there.)

Read more: ‘Customs’ charges on gifts due to postal errors, say French Douanes

The tax claim attempt originated from the European Union decision to reclaim VAT tax from people buying goods over the internet without VAT being paid.

La Poste’s computer experts interpreted the rules as tax and management payments on all parcels from outside the EU.

Reluctantly we paid - but I insisted on a receipt

Rather than turn down the present, we agreed to pay, in cash as required (cheques were not accepted as payment), but I insisted on a receipt. 

The postman was not at all prepared for this and started muttering under his breath – I asked if as a sworn postman, he was also a sworn tax officer, and if so he would know the importance of paperwork, which made him turn red, and call his office to find out how to issue a receipt.

Eventually, he managed to program his mobile phone and enter in the email address I printed out on paper for him, and find a screen with a receipt on it for me to sign.

He then left, probably guessing it was no good leaving Christmas calendars at our address this year.

In order to get the receipt I had to go to www.laposte.fr, click on courier and then click on the left hand menu envoyer / recevoir un colis ou un courrier, then on Payer les droits et taxes de douane, and finally Récupérer le justificatif de paiement des droits et taxes de douane.

The receipt arrived in my email box a couple of hours later – it had a wrong figure for the declared value of the present, €18.99 instead of €19.99 but stated we had paid €4 in VAT and €8 in frais de gestion.

Finding the website complaints section took time

Still angry I returned to the site to complain and to reclaim the €12, in our heated discussion the postman had said I should complain to La Poste instead of to him – I replied I would not have to complain if he did not insist on collecting a “tax” which was so obviously wrong.

Finding the complaints section of the website took time: I eventually found it by going to the Aide et contact section, then suivi d’un colis ou d’un courier, and then following the question fréquent: Que faire en cas d’anomalie sur le suivi de mon colis ou de ma lettre?

Right at the top of the complaints section there was a red banner with a link to a statement about how, since July, the EU was forcing La Poste to collect tax on goods bought abroad – no mention of taxing small monetary value Christmas presents was made, so I ignored it.

This took me to a page with various options for complaints – I chose La tournée de votre facture, which after requesting name and address, finally gave me a text box to outline my complaint.

I wrote out my complaint, keeping the tone neutral, and my demand for repayment, on the computer to keep a record and using the letter and number under the barcode on the envelope as a reference.

It was then pasted the text into the website, and sent off.

An immediate computer generated message receipt email arrived - and then four days later, another email letter from a ‘Mme Volbrecht’ who identified herself as the area district manager.

Email received did not address any of the points raised

It was obviously computer generated, addressed none of the points raised, and advised me to pay taxes when I ordered goods.

Armed with this letter I then turned to the Médiateur de la consommation for La Poste, and started filling their online complaints form, only to be blocked because I had not got a second refusal letter from the hierarchy of La Poste.

Luckily the Médiateur site was able to give me an address to write to, something I was not able to find on the La Poste site, nor was it included in the letter they sent rejecting my request.

No email address was available and the post address is:

Litiges Courrier

Instance Recours de Libourne

BP 63043

33503 LIBOURNE

Cedex

In my letter I stated I was writing after an earlier refusal, gave a copy of my original letter, asked again to be refunded, with an additional €5.50 for the cost of the registered delivery with proof of delivery letter to their service.

I said I hoped the matter could be settled in a friendly manner without involving the mediateur or other third parties

As with the first letter I ended by saying I hoped the matter could be settled in a friendly manner without involving the mediateur or other third parties.

Sending this letter at our local post office caused raised eyebrows, and a certain froideur, it was obviously an address the post office staff knew, and did not like.

The pink slip confirming reception arrived after four days. Then 22 days later, on December 31, just as I was gearing up to fill out the mediateur’s form with the pink slip as proof of correspondence, I received by email, an apology from La Poste for the time taken to reply, a notice that the matter had been looked at again with a decision in my favour, and a promise that a cheque for €17.50 will be in the post.

I am glad I won but the episode has left a bitter taste – from our postman up, the decision to tax Christmas presents, seems to have been handled without thought and with no one prepared to challenge an absurdity.

Related articles

How to avoid taxes and fees being levied on gifts sent UK to France

Post-Brexit tax rules recap: How to send gifts between UK and France

Price of online goods from outside EU to rise in France VAT crackdown

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