Ordering equipment from overseas – import duty and VAT

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.

The one time I’ve had this applied, Royal Mail put a card through my door. Paying the charge was a straightforward process and the item was delivered without a problem. But I’ve heard of one instance where equipment was ordered by an employer’s supplies department. It didn’t arrive and it turned out to have been held and then returned to the sender. So my guess is that the courier’s card arrived at the post room or supplies department and whoever picked it up didn’t know what it was about and ignored it.

If you’re working somewhere with large and impersonal post rooms and supplies departments, I think you may want to consider ordering equipment yourself and having it delivered to your home address. So you receive the card when the item has arrived in the country and can pay the charges and arrange delivery. But unless you’re also funding it yourself, I recommend you make sure you have written agreement up-front that you’ll be reimbursed all the costs. Cost of the item and shipping, duty, VAT and the courier’s administration charge. That written agreement should be from someone who is actually entitled to authorise spending. This applies even if Access to Work is funding the equipment. Because AtW will usually refund your employer, not you. (I assume that’s only if you’re employed, not self-employed.)

HMRC has an overview about duty and VAT here.

If the equipment has been “specially designed to give educational, employment or social help to people with physical or mental disabilities,” and for your own use, you will be able to claim duty & tax relief. But equipment used for work is not exempt. See this article.

Do let me know if you come across problems so we can try to find solutions, include more information here and help prevent others hitting the same obstacles. Thanks.

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