Customs, confusion and charges: Chiswick struggles with Brexit

The media’s currently full of stories of the confusion and chaos caused by the last-minute Brexit deal on December 24. They range from the faintly ridiculous (see this video on the Independent’s website of a British driver having his sandwiches confiscated by continental customs officials) to major British companies suspending their sales to Europe.

The massive logistics and delivery firm, DPD, says it is “pausing“ its road delivery services from the UK to Europe until at least January 13, citing “more complex processes, and additional customs data requirements”, combined with delays and congestion at UK ports.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said on Friday that he expected there to be “significant extra disruption” in the weeks ahead.

It’s already having an impact on everyone from the High Road chain stores to smaller businesses – and even a Chiswick shopper who’s been landed with a £55 bill for “import taxes” after buying a dress from France.

Image above: Chiswick High Road

Impact on the High Road

Book chain Waterstones recently announced that it is suspending its sales to EU customers.

Marks and Spencer expressed concern that complicated new ‘rules of origin’ regulations mean more than a third of the items in its food halls, including Percy Pigs, could attract new import taxes in its European stores. It and Sainsbury’s are reported to have temporarily cut some food and drink lines from their stores in Northern Ireland.

And that’s just the big boys. Smaller local businesses are trying to negotiate these new problems with far fewer resources. As are local consumers.

Stephen Foster, owner of Foster Books describes the coming together of Covid and Brexit as “a hideous cocktail” for small businesses. Life has been getting progressively harder over the past few weeks for the antiquarian bookseller whose family business has been part of Chiswick High Rd for more than 50 years.

Thanks to the last minute lockdown he took about five percent of what he normally would in Christmas week and now he’s trying to get his head round what Brexit actually means, now that traders finally have the details.

“There’s now more paperwork – every parcel now has to have a commercial invoice in triplicate” he told The Chiswick Calendar. Then there’s working out the VAT for 27 different countries.

READ MORE: Covid and Brexit – “A hideous cocktail” for small businesses

Image above: Tribe Rugs

Home wares and decoration

Chris Couch at Tribe Rugs said at the end of the first week in January:

“Some of our stock deliveries are now up to 1 month late – we are told this is due to backlog at the ports, we are still waiting for confirmation of new delivery times. Hopefully this is just a short term problem! We’re told it’s a combination of pre- Brexit stock building and confusion over new customs paperwork.”

Lin Leung from Decorexi adds:

“Post Brexit: more customs forms, administrative paperwork has already started, as to be expected. Each EU order needs to be processed correctly so this takes more time per shipment.  For this year, we will absorb increased costs at our end so our European consumers can continue to benefit from a seamless experience. This may end up being unsustainable, but we expect this to be a process of trial and error as we adjust to legal changes and changes in consumer behaviour.“

Images above: West London Pharmacy


Abbas Ali, co-owner of West London Pharmacy on the High Road says that since the beginning of January, the “unavailability of medications” has increased around 20 per cent. That’s on top of a reduction in available supplies in November and December of around five to ten per cent. Abbas assumes that the January shortages are Brexit-related. But he stresses:

“There are ways round it. If something’s not available, we call the patient’s GP and suggest an alternative. It might not be the best version available; perhaps not the most effective, or it might have some small side effects, but there are alternatives. However, this takes up more of our time.”

It’s a slightly different story at Churchill’s pharmacy a little further down the High Road. Owner Jai Parmar says:

“We seem to be OK at the moment. We stocked up in November and December and we’re two or three months ahead stocked up with medication. We have the odd lines out of stock here and there, but that’s normal.“

Image above: The Italians

Food and drink

Two of the Chiswick delis which rely heavily on European imports remain upbeat:

Bayley and Sage on Turnham Green Terrace report having “no problems” so far.

And Massimo Lopez, Director of The Italians on Chiswick High Road says he’s still getting his supplies in from Italy. “So far everything’s OK. Maybe there could be a delay with wine, but we’re still trying to sort this out. We’re having a positive attitude. We’re still open from 8.00am- 9.00pm. We’re still making pizza for takeaway from Wednesday to Sunday. We even opened a new store in Marylebone!”

The Good Wine Shop on Chiswick High Road gets the majority of its wine from Europe. According to its Manager, Ben Humberstone:

“The full extent of  what Brexit means for accessibility to wine supplies, the variety of wines available and possible cost increases hasn’t really been felt just yet. We’ll see what happens over the next few months, but I don’t anticipate any problems with stock availability in the short term. We did a lot of international sales to Europe over Christmas, because of Covid. But we’ve suspended all international deliveries for now while we conduct some trial deliveries, before offering that service to paying customers again.”

Images above: the dress which Zita Pease ordered, and the resulting unexpected import charges

An extra £55 for “import tax and duties” on a dress

It’s not just companies who are currently counting the cost of Brexit. Chiswick resident Zita Pease has already fallen foul of the confusion which appears to be reigning on both sides of the Channel.

She bought a dress from the English website of Paris fashion company Claudie Pierlot. She told The Chiswick Calendar that as far as she was concerned, she’d paid £139.42 for the dress and had already paid the VAT on it. So she sat back to await delivery. She was horrified when the delivery company, DPD, sent her a bill for a further £55 for import tax and duties.

Zita says it’s unclear where all the extra costs came from, but thinks that she may have been charged twice for VAT, or that someone may have made a mistake on the customs form. She tried to get more information from the delivery company, without success.

She believes she’s not the only one having this kind of problem. “I think it is happening to others as well” she says. “Am sending the parcel back. I will not be buying anything online in the future.”

Claudie Pierlot’s English website warns:

“Due to the sanitary conditions and Brexit, your deliveries or returns might be delayed”.

It does not mention extra VAT or import taxes.

Zita said her daughter also had a similar problem when ordering a new coat (from a different website called Maje). The import charges were £70 on a coat which was already £200. She has also decided to cancel the order.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Which ‘non-essential’ shops are still offering click & collect or deliveries

See also: Covid and Brexit – “a hideous cocktail” for small businesses

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