Courier Services Hit by Export IT and Paperwork Issues

A Courier’s Load – Source: Claudio Schwarz-Purzlbaum on Unsplash

One of the unforeseen consequences of finally leaving the EU on December 31st 2020 is that many businesses are dependent on their supply partners to ensure their exports and payments are processed as efficiently as before.  Some shipping companies had announced before leaving that there would be price increases and longer delivery times to some services, but not that in some cases the services would grind to a halt, thus failing to deliver at all.

One supplier of speciality tapes has had their main courier partner fail to export a number of customer parcels since the start of the year.  

It was not possible to predict which shipments would fail, nor did the courier company explain what the problems might be, despite having a detailed online form filling process before allowing a booking to be made.  This same company had been reassuring their account holders of all the preparation and work they were doing in the preceding year including IT upgrades and HMRC integration to facilitate a seamless operation post Brexit. 

The shipments appeared to be on their way as normal.  Booked for collection, labelled, collected and driven off; only for the goods to be returned by the courier with no explanation a few days later.  No one had opened the customs pouches to look at the documentation (although that information would have been available for them electronically). There was nothing on the boxes, or online, to explain why they were returned.  Despite the courier company having full details of the sender, no attempt was made to phone or otherwise contact the sender to iron out any issues.  Many of the returns didn’t even make it out of the hub, the first drop off point after collection.

The tapes supplier simply re-packaged the returned shipments and sent them off via other couriers with the same customs information as before. All these shipments did arrive.  They have now found out that the courier company concerned has claimed that problems are all to do with commodity codes.  Yet the codes used in this example were well established import codes to the UK and should not have caused an issue at all, and indeed they didn’t cause an issue with the alternative shippers. 

An unexpected reaction to the failure of some couriers to be able to cope with new systems, is that it is now very difficult and time consuming to try to set up a business account with an international courier service who understands customs and exports properly.  They are inundated with requests for new accounts due to the issues our more localised services are having.  The best option is perhaps a parcel broker, but they have less capacity than normal at the moment because they have had to remove couriers who are struggling from their lists.

Some customers were unaware that they would now be paying VAT and import duties on their purchases.  It is now applied by the destination country’s rules and at their VAT rate.  This came as a shock to some customers who thought the price they paid on a web site was the final price.  We have seen examples of several people on TV and heard them on radio talking about this.  It’s not unusual though, it’s a fact of import life elsewhere in the world, we knew this was going to happen if we left the EU and the single market and customs union. 

This expensive, sad and sorry story must be playing out all over the country. For instance a paint supplier had been unable to ship product to one on his main clients in Ireland for most of January. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of this government to tell businesses and those supporting them what is required for them to continue exporting to the EU. All the government ads saying “Get Ready for Brexit” were useless since nobody knew what to “get ready” for until the last minute. And even now government advice to industry sectors is unclear or, in the case of fisheries, incorrect.

The Conservative Party used to claim it was the “party of business” but at this point in time they are failing to live up to that claim.  They must support businesses and their trading partners in adjusting to the new conditions, and continue to work with urgency, with the EU to sort out ways to make imports/exports flow smoothly again. 

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