La Poste has said that improvements have been made to its IT systems for processing gifts sent from outside the EU. It comes after many people reported being charged when they should not have been for receiving low-value gifts in the run-up to Christmas.
Some readers continue to report being wrongly charged for taxes and fees in recent weeks, probably because of human error, sometimes on the part of the sender.
The work required by La Poste workers in the processing of packages from outside the EU has greatly increased following the introduction last summer of new EU VAT rules which abolished an exemption for low-value items (but not low-value gifts) after the full application of Brexit since last year.
Why do errors occur?
Parcels containing gifts, sent from outside the EU and costing less than €45 should not incur any French import VAT or customs duties. This means that when filling in customs forms for this type of parcel the sender must give a clear indication that it is a present, the nature of the item, and that it is worth less than the charge threshold.
If an item is worth more than €45, an additional 20% VAT charge will probably apply [to the whole amount], plus duties at around 0-22% depending on the category of item, if not shown to be made wholly or mostly in the UK or EU.
In addition, where La Poste, or another delivery service, incurs costs in advancing VAT/duties at the border, they often bill the recipient an admin fee as well as reimbursement of the taxes they paid.
A spokesperson for France’s customs service has previously told The Connexion that taxes and fees may mistakenly be being applied to parcels because of new EU rules which came into force on July 1, 2021, which removed a VAT exemption on all commercial items coming from outside the EU valued under €20. This does not apply to low-value gifts.
This means that most parcels do now come with extra charges and so this becomes the default procedure. Charges will be applied accidentally to some gifts if the postal service fails to correctly declare its nature to the Douanes, the customs service said.
Parcel recipients have often been asked for payment without being given an invoice breaking down the different elements of the charges, which only adds to the confusion.
One Connexion reader said: “I received a parcel from the UK in December from my daughter as a Christmas present. I found I had to pay €37 for the gift, whose value was £20. The parcel had the CN22 [customs form] label fully filled in stating it was a gift. I tried to explain to the postmistress I did not have to pay but she refused to give it to me unless I paid it.
What can you do if wrongly charged?
La Poste has previously told us that: “as the procedures are mostly done using IT, for obvious reasons of efficiency and fluidity, errors are, despite everything, possible.”
A spokeswoman added that “we send out regular reminders to all our distribution teams and post offices about the procedures” with regard to low-value gifts and that customers can report any issues via the helpline 3631.
However, our reader said that this service could not help her as her gift was not a Colissimo parcel, so this may not always work.
It is also possible to contact Douanes Info Service on 0800 94 40 40, although La Poste should be your first port of call.
If you are asked to pay fees on a parcel delivered from abroad, you can also request a receipt for the charges by logging your details on this page, or perhaps asking your postman/woman to do it for you.
Obtaining this facture should help you claim back any erroneous taxes or processing fees. It may also be useful to keep the packaging in which the gift was sent.
What is La Poste doing to improve the situation?
Last week, a spokesperson told The Connexion that: “Digital improvements have been carried out at the beginning and end of December in order to better identify this type of parcel.”
This week, she added that: “Operations of customs clearance and the removal of taxes are essentially carried out on a computer.
“The required digital updates are complex and require continued efforts at improvement as and when necessary.
“La Poste has recorded complaints on 0.4% of parcels arriving in France in recent weeks.
“The learning curve is therefore well underway, although it is still possible that minor malfunctions may occur.”
Why else might you be charged taxes on gifts?
Gift recipients may also be charged taxes and fees on parcel postage if:
The sender did not fill out the customs paperwork correctly
La Poste has added admin fees if it has incurred additional charges during postage. The amount that you are charged for these expenses can be reduced if you pay in advance online. La Poste states it will alert you if the sender includes your contact details such as email on the form, however we note there is no space for this in the simplified CN22 customs form.
The gift value is more than €45
One Connexion reader told us this month that they were charged 38% of the value of the parcel, even though it was only €2 over the €45 limit.
“On top of that, my dad had overestimated the value of just one of the items by about NZ$6 (approximately €3.60)
“For the last two years I have been unable to go to see my family in New Zealand because the borders are closed to citizens unless they win a place in a quarantine lottery and pay for this quarantine, so the introduction of these fees for presents at such a sad time for so many Kiwis is very unwelcome.”
Another reader said that their daughter paid £25 to post Christmas presents to France as she was unable to visit over the festive period.
Her parents were then charged €32 by La Poste because the gifts’ total value was £100.
“Had she known this would happen she could have posted three separate parcels to us, all valued at under £45.
“Post-Brexit nobody knows the added costs until we are landed with them, it seems we are being ripped off right left and centre,” our reader said.
Your parcel contains commercial goods
“I ordered a second-hand book online from the UK, for which I paid £2.35,” one reader said.
“I had to pay the postman €9!”