‘Four months is long time to get no response from An Post about an incorrect €82 charge’

Pricewatch: A delivery of tea that came all the way from China came with a suspect VAT bill

Last August, Ciaran from Galway bought some tea. It wasn’t any old tea, however, it was some very expensive tea which came all the way from China.

The value of the tea – pu-erh, as it happens – was a fairly eye-watering €355. But that wasn’t the end of it. Ciaran was also charged almost €82 by An Post, which, he was told, was VAT.

“According to the Revenue Commissioners’ site, tea is zero-rated for VAT. There was no possibility of phoning anyone to clarify matters before paying the charge so I emailed An Post – the only option available – to query this,” Ciaran says.

He got an automated reply which said: “Thank you for your email. Due to the volume of enquiries currently being received it has not been possible to respond within the time frame we would wish and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. We are advising our customers to send one email per query. Your email will be attended to in strict date rotation based on the date of your initial inquiry. Additional emails sent within the same thread may lead to a delay in response as the query date will be marked as the latest email received and not the original contact made.”


As there was a short time frame for paying An Post before they send things back “we paid up on September 12th, without having heard anything back”.

The tea was duly delivered.

On September 14th, Ciaran heard from the ‘e-Comm Charge Query Team’ via email.

That email said: “Thank you for your email and please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to your query. This delay is due to the high volume of emails received. Can you please provide the original invoice for the item that states it is tea?”

“I provided [it] that day,” Ciaran says. “Having heard nothing more from An Post, I emailed them on November 11th to ask for an update on the progress of my query and received the same automated response. I have heard nothing since.

“Four months seems like a very long time to get no response about a charge that – I think – was incorrectly levied. It remains to be seen if the €3.50 administration fee charged for this service might eventually be returned, but the blank wall of the eComm email address is not giving much away. Am I right in thinking this is not the way it should be? I would have imagined you’d have heard a lot about these charges.”

We have indeed heard quite a bit about these charges. So, too, we expect, has An Post.

We got on to An Post and heard back a few days later from spokeswoman Anna McHugh.

“While Ciaran is absolutely correct in saying that there is no VAT payable on dry tea, all items from non-EU countries must be accompanied by supporting electronic data,” she said. “Unfortunately this was absent, so our customs system didn’t accept the description of the goods as written on the parcel and the value was well over the €45 (including postage) threshold for gifts.”

McHugh said that while our reader says he provided An Post “with invoice details to enable us to void the VAT demand (and provide this data to Irish customs)” there is no record of it having been received. “In February, the customer opened a new email thread without including the case number, so we had no way of identifying the sender of that message.”

She added that it “really pains us to have to involve customers in this bureaucracy but the EU customs regulations must be complied with. As a goodwill gesture we have refunded the VAT charge, and requested that the document verifying details of the item be resent to us.”

She said that An Post continues to work “very closely with Irish customs and postal companies to improve the service for customers. We are also continuing to invest in the technology supporting the customs process so that it can recognise and accept more variations and descriptions of VAT-exempt goods.”

Speaking of An Post, we also heard from another reader who was wondering what the practical impact of the resolution of a row between An Post and the UK postal service about the delivery of products from small companies based in Britain.

He was referring to ongoing delivery difficulties which stemmed from delays on the UK postal side in investing in technology needed to add specific digital codes to packages dropped off at local post offices in Britain by SMEs destined for the Republic.

These codes contain key information on the contents of the package and specify whether duty and taxes are prepaid. The codes are obligatory under new European Union rules for postal packages sent in from outside the EU.

Larger retailers in the UK who do a substantial amount of trade with consumers in the Republic were quick to implement the new systems post-Brexit but smaller operators encountered difficulties, which has led to substantial delays and purchases being routinely returned to sender.

So, the practical impact of the resolution of the row will mean that customs processes should be speeded up, more products will be delivered from Britain to the Republic and those deliveries will happen more quickly. We’ll still have to pay the taxes on them, mind you.

Thanks again, Boris.