The Royal Mail has defended its postmen following claims they are largely responsible for failing to collect import duty and VAT from customers, payable on cameras bought using overseas websites.

Failure to collect VAT and Customs Duty, due on cameras imported into the UK through non-EU based websites, may drive up high-street prices, UK photo industry heads warned on Tuesday.

They blamed HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for not checking packages when they arrive in the UK and the Royal Mail for failure to collect the import duty. ‘The postman often finds it easier to deliver the package rather than try and collect the duty,’ said the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) and Photo Imaging Council (PIC) in a statement.

However, a spokesman for Royal Mail has since hit back, telling Amateur Photographer: ‘It?s not our postmen who have to make the decision.’

The Royal Mail says it is up to a customs officer to raise a charge when an item enters the UK via Royal Mail ‘inward centres’, such as those based at Heathrow and Mount Pleasant.

The Royal Mail spokesman said its staff will only open a package delivered from overseas if a customs officer states that it warrants investigation.

However, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) told us last night: ‘HMRC is responsible for calculating the import duty and VAT due on packages received from overseas. Collection of these amounts from the customer is a matter for the delivery and courier companies.’

Some parcels escape duty, admits HMRC

HMRC admits that ‘there will be occasions when a parcel misses the normal customs process’.

But it adds: ‘This does not mean that charges were not legally due.’

Physical examination of goods for ‘fiscal or smuggling purposes’ is based on ‘perceived risk’, said HMRC.

Its spokesman added: ‘There is no obligation by a seller to point out on their website that UK import VAT may be due and HMRC do not have any jurisdiction over spurious or invalid claims made on websites.’

Commercial goods imported from outside the EU with a value ‘less than £18’ are free of ‘import VAT’.

Customs duty applies to goods with a value over £120.

This limit is set to rise to £135 from 1 January 2010.

The PMA and PIC claim that failure to collect import duty and VAT results in up to £10m in lost government revenue each year.

They gave warning that cheap imports cause ‘serious damage’ to high-street shops and will lead to reduced services and higher prices for the consumer.

Picture credit: Chris Cheesman


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