Anything ordered from overseas is checked at customs. If it costs over a specified threshold, you will usually need to pay duty and VAT. At the time of writing, VAT applies to goods over £15 or £36 for gifts. And duty to goods over £135. There are some exceptions. If tax and duty are chargeable, the courier or Royal Mail or Parcel Force have to pay tax and duty and claim it back from you. So Royal Mail, Parcel Force or the courier will contact you. You will need to pay them these charges and an administration fee before they deliver the item. I’ve asked HMRC if there’s a way we can pay duty and VAT up-front so there isn’t a hold-up. Apparently not.
I’ve known for a long time that if you’re buying equipment in the UK, that is for your sole use and needed due to a disability, you don’t have to pay VAT. Some suppliers of deafness-related equipment have a simple declaration readily available so VAT is deducted before you pay anything. (eg Connevans’ VAT information, Action On Hearing Loss shop information.)
I’ve just learned* there’s a similar set-up if you’re buying equipment overseas. Usually there’s duty to pay either via the carrier, or at customs if you’re bringing something in yourself. Someone in our email group has just passed on the news that you can make a similar declaration and won’t have to pay duty.
To qualify for exemption, HMRC states equipment must be “specially designed to give educational, employment or social help to people with physical or mental disabilities” (see HMRC ref below.) Their reply to my equiry states, “unfortunately, the VAT relief only covers equipment that is designed solely for the use by disabled people” which excludes most if not all electronic stethoscopes, “and also is to be used for your own private and domestic use – so this wouldn’t cover equipment that you use for work.” Which definitely excludes all stethoscopes as well as much other equipment. If in doubt about a specific situation, I suggest checking with HMRC.