This page contains information for people in the UK who are sending or are being sent items from abroad by post. It explains how our officers at the UK ensure that these items are free from illegal items, and that the correct tax and/or duty is paid on them.
On this page
Every year, many millions of parcels and packets are imported into the UK through the postal system. The UK Border Agency is responsible for ensuring that they are free from illegal items such as drugs and firearms, and that the correct tax and/or duty is paid on them.
We do this work in partnership with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the UK's designated postal service - Royal Mail Group, which includes Parcelforce Worldwide.
HMRC establishes in law the charges that must be paid, and the items and materials that cannot be brought into the country. Our officers ensure that items comply with those regulations, by examining parcels and packets as they enter or leave the country.
HMRC is the main point of contact for enquiries about why items are charged, what the charges are, and general customs advice. For more information, see Notice 143 on the HMRC website.
How do we deal with parcels and packages at the border?
Royal Mail Group accepts each parcel or packet from the postal service in the country where it was sent. It is declared to our officers, who:
- establish what value added tax (VAT) and duty charges, if any, are due; and
- check that the contents of the parcel or packet do not contravene the law.
Officers establish what charges (if any) are due on the parcel by using the information which must (by law) be provided on the Customs Declaration affixed to the parcel. This will have been filled in for the importer (recipient of the parcel) by the sending party. The responsibility to ensure that the declaration is accurate lies both with the sender and recipient in law.
If any charges are due, Royal Mail Group pays them directly to HMRC and then recovers the amount from the importer (recipient) before delivering the parcel or packet.
For more information about Royal Mail Group and its international postal operation, visit the Royal Mail website. You can track the progress of your parcel or packet by visiting the Parcelforce Worldwide website. HMRC and the UK Border Agency cannot track it for you.
All goods imported into the UK from outside the EU are liable for tax/duty if their value is:
- over £15 (for purchases or commercial goods); or
- over £40 for gifts.
The price of postage is added to the value of the item when calculating charges (except for gifts posted using standard mail instead of express mail). This means that you may be charged tax and/or duty on items that are not themselves expensive.
The charging rates are set by HMRC and are set out in Notice 143 on the HMRC website . Notice 143 also explains why items are charged and contains general customs advice.
If tax and/or duty is payable on your item, Parcelforce Worldwide will initially pay it to us on your behalf. It will then recover this amount, plus a customs clearance fee to cover the costs of presenting the item, from you before delivering your parcel. The customs clearance fee covers Royal Mail Group's costs from additional handling, administration, money collection and clearance of parcels.
You do not need to pay tax or duty on gifts, purchases or commercial items sent from another country in the EU. However, there are different rules for goods containing alcohol or tobacco (known as 'excise goods') - see Notice 143 on the HMRC website for more information.
How do we determine the value of an item?
The sender of the item must complete a customs declaration form, which is fixed to the parcel. They must accurately describe the goods and declare their actual value. They should always declare the value accurately, even if the minimum amount of insurance cover is higher.
Our officers will use the information on the customs declaration to determine the charges that are payable. This is why it is vital that the declaration is accurate. If charges have been accurately applied based on the information on the declaration, but you believe that this information was wrong, it may be possible to have the charges reviewed and refunded - but only after the charges have been paid and the item received.
Until 1st April 2012 Royal Mail Group and UKBA have been able to offer a limited ability to correct mistakes made by importers who have inaccurately or incorrectly filled out the Customs Declaration - before the parcel is released. From April 2012 this will no longer be possible and charges levied on the information provided on the declaration will stand in the first instance although UKBA will continue to offer to exceptionally re-asses charges after a parcel has been delivered where the importer can demonstrate a genuine error was made and the intention was to declare the contents in line with legal requirements.
Our officers also examine parcels to ensure that they do not contain prohibited or restricted goods, and that the declaration is accurate. In some cases, parcels must be opened, and are then repacked by Parcelforce Worldwide on your behalf.
When any charges have been established, a charge label is applied to the item, showing how the charges have been totaled.
How to fill in a customs declaration
The Customs declaration (known as the CN22 or CN23) is the internationally agreed way of showing the important information needed by Customs authorities all over the world in order that they can assure themselves that the contents of the Parcel are allowed in to the country and that the correct charges are levied.
As with any work to prevent smuggling or abuse of the UK Border controls the UKBA uses intelligence to profile items for examination to check for illegal items and for incorrect value and contents descriptions.
Officers use the information in the Customs Declaration to establish what the goods are and a number of other key pieces of information.
The Royal Mail provide advice on correctly filling out Customs Declarations and you should ensure the person acting on your behalf (the sender) fills in the declaration fully and accurately. This will ensure any charges levied will correct.
While UKBA will always try to help customers whose declarations were incorrect or not sufficiently clear to enable accurate charges to be levied this can only be done retrospectively and where a genuine mistake has been made, in all cases of application for a reassessment of charges, evidence will be required.
Top Tips for getting declarations right:
- Do ensure the value of the goods on the declaration is the actual value, not any insurance value.
- Do specify on the declaration when items are being sent for repair or replacement under a warranty.
- Do make it clear when an item is a gift (see below for information on gifts).
- Be specific, for example if an item contains clothes, specify if they are for a child or adult and new or second hand.
- If you are a student and posting in your own personal belongings make sure the declaration shows that.
What is a gift?
A gift is an item which has no commercial/trade element and has not been paid for, either directly or indirectly. Gifts are of an occasional nature, such as a birthday or anniversary.
Anything else is a commercial/business item.
If you receive goods from outside the UK, you are an importer, even if the goods are gifts or are not being sold on to other people.
If you send goods outside the UK, you are an exporter, even if the goods are gifts.
Parcels containing gifts for different family members
When determining whether a parcel is liable for tax and/or duty, we will use the information on the customs declaration. But if the parcel contains a number of gifts, which all have a value of below £40 and are clearly for separate family members, the charges can be reviewed.
How to pay customs charges
For items due for delivery by Parcelforce Worldwide, you can pay the charges online at the Parcelforce Worldwide website or by phoning the number given on your letter from Parcelforce Worldwide.
For items due for delivery by Royal Mail, the Royal Mail website explains how you can pay the charges online or in person.
Royal Mail Group will hold parcels for 20 days. If you do not pay the charges within this time, the parcel will be returned to the sender at their expense.
If you do not know why you have been charged tax and/or duty on an item, you can find information about charges in Notice 143 on the HMRC website .
If you believe charges have been wrongly applied to your item, you should use form BOR286 on the HMRC website. Please send the following documents with your completed form:
- the original charge label and the customs declaration form from the parcel; and
- supporting documents, such as an invoice or receipt for the goods.
Please send these documents to the address given on the charge label.
We will send you a letter containing our decision. If you are still unhappy with our decision, the letter will tell you how and where to appeal. You cannot appeal until you have received a decision letter from us.
If we have seized your items
If we have examined your parcel and seized items seized, we will write to you advising you how to proceed.
If we have examined your parcel and some items are damaged or you think some items are missing, or you are unhappy with the service you have received, please email us at: UKBAcustomercomplaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
Please provide full details of your complaint including reference number.
Alternatively you may write to us at the address below:
Complaints Allocation Hub
Please be aware that emails are likely to receive a quicker response than letters.
Please note: This contact information is only for complaints following receipt of your items. Due to the volume of postal items we are unable to respond to other types of query at this address or email address. For other matters please refer to sections on this part of the UKBA website, the HMRC website (notice 143) and the Royal Mail website.