No red shoes for Christmas

Dorothy1 was looking forward to Christmas and being able to have her young grandsons staying for five days or so. It would be lovely because she had not seen them for several months. She had even spent €195 on a new pair of red shoes2 from Arche in France. She had bought from Arche before and she knew the size she needed and that they would be comfortable.

But it wasn’t to be.

There was some delay on despatch of the shoes – but much worse than that, the rise in Covid infections meant that the Government reduced the time that she could spend with her grandsons (and her children) to just one day – and then advised that really people shouldn’t even do that.

So she didn’t.

And the shoes didn’t come.

Then on Friday Dorothy heard from UPS that the shoes were on their way. And she also heard that they came with £54.15 of “Government Charges” and £11.50 of “Brokerage Charges” to be paid – 38% of the cost of the shoes. Yikes.

The UPS website………….  No, let us forget that; it provided lots of information but nothing that was of much use. A 40-minute phone call with helpful and pleasant people in three different departments ended with a promise of a callback because person number four was not available. And as promised, a callback came and there was a useful discussion.

The shoes had cost €195 including shipping, and also French VAT.

The UPS charge was explained as UK VAT of 20% on the €195 that Dorothy had paid – so VAT charged on VAT – and also UK VAT at 20% on shipping which had been included in the price and not shown separately on the invoice. UPS explained that they were required to use an estimate – it was not clear who made this estimate – of £70 which meant VAT of £14!

This had been necessary because the cost of shipping had not been stated.

But the shoes had been ordered and bought and paid for in 2020 and because of that (according to UPS) the UK Government “had agreed” that charges should not be levied, and so there were no charges.

Dorothy was very happy when the shoes were delivered and she was so pleased that her husband, who is a Wizard3, had sorted this all out for her.

Smiles all round.

Much of this came about because the shoes were bought under the old system when we were allegedly ruled by terrible people in Brussels, whereas the delivery was under the new sunny uplands regime that we now have.

But working it all through, as it would have been if it had all happened in 2021, the shoes would have cost Dorothy 6.5% more than in 2020 – plus a further 8% because the shoe shop did not separately state the cost of shipping.

So lots of lessons learned; including apparently the real meaning of the word “frictionless”.

Lessons for the future

When buying online from the EU:

  • Make sure that you are not being charged VAT by the seller,
  • Make sure that the sellers invoice states the cost of shipping (or that it is included in the price),
  • Find out (if you can) how much the shipper will charge you for dealing with customs clearance.


1 Dorothy is not her real name
2 Not that Dorothy and not those shoes either
3 He isn’t really.