My sister sent my girls American Girl dolls as Christmas gifts.  She said she sent them a while back, but due to the holidays, the strikes, etc., it only arrived at the ParcelForce warehouse just before Christmas.  After Christmas, we received a notice stating that we owed money on VAT and a clearance fee.

We were rather shocked.  Why should we have to pay taxes on gifts that have already been taxed and paid on the other end?  She spent over $200 for the dolls, $60 for mailing it, and now we have to pay almost another $50 to clear it and tax it.

After some investigation, we found out that they can tax on gifts if it is worth more than 36 GBP.  They will not charge Customs duty if it amounts to less than 7 GBP.  However, all alcohol and tobacco will be charged excise duty.

The clearance fee is a handling fee that Royal Mail and ParcelForce charge to cover their expenses: handling the postage, dealing with customs, paying import duties for you and collecting import duties from you.

I don’t know what the US charges, if anything, for similar items.  We’ve never had to go through this from the other end.

Other things to note is that VAT is charged on internet sales if bought outside the EU and amounts to more than 18 GBP.  Customs duty applies to goods valued over 120 GBP (except as above).  Exceptions apply to alcohol and tobacco in that you may still have to pay excise duty.  There are even more complicated rules for the Channel Islands.  I still don’t understand how the Channel Islands fit into the scheme of things.

I have never been a big fan of unions.  They began as a good idea, but it seems that the union organisations have gone out of control.  I find that employees are sometimes caught between union bosses and employers.  They are the ones who suffer in the long run.[ad#ad-1]

Now, the Royal Mail strike is affecting everyone.  While blue collar workers who strike aim to cause disruption for their companies, the effects for the wider community is not immediately felt.  However, postal workers who strike cause havoc for everyone.  (Even worse than when the tube workers were striking earlier in the year – people made other arrangements for travel.)

I recall just a few weeks ago when my work contract took forever to reach me.  My job and our financial state were in terrible danger.  I remember thinking that perhaps if one of those workers were waiting for a critical document, they might reconsider the strike. 

Today, we almost missed the deadline to register our daughter for secondary school.  Granted, we should have taken care of this ASAP, but we only received the paperwork last month and we really haven’t had the time to investigate schools.  People used to this system would know what to do, but we are very new to all of this.  So, when we sat down to do the application, we found that we had to have it in by noon today.  Secondly, it was not the time of posting, but the time of reception.  Thirdly, the mail strike meant that delivery on time was  not guaranteed.  Some school districts extended the deadline, but others refused.  We managed to drive around the neighbourhood and found some internet access – just enough to get online and submit the application right as the clock struck noon.  Of course, we wonder if it will really matter in the long run, because we might move and will have to apply for special consideration at a different school later on.  It’s so much easier to apply for schools in the States.

Royal Mail have tried to counteract the impact of the strike by hiring 30,000 temporary workers to catch up, as well as to ramp up for the upcoming Christmas season.  Of course, the unions are not happy about this because it may, in effect, the negate the effects of the strike.  But, I have to agree with RM in saying that the strike is extremely irresponsible.  Why should we, the common people, have to suffer because of their disputes?  Did they expect that the public would rally behind the union and demand that RM give in so that we can resume our daily lives?  RM is already in financial trouble so the government wants to sell part of it off.  What concessions can they possibly make during this recession?  That’s what I cannot  understand.

What I fear is that this strike may force many companies to start using the internet for all communications.  UPS and FedEx will take over the delivery of parcels and all the other postal services will be handed over to other departments.  Some might think this image of the future is for the best – the “greenest option”, but I personally still enjoy getting handwritten postal messages.  And I fear problems arising with the use of email for all communication, especially legal issues.


It has taken some time for me to adjust my view of the role of the post office.  In the US, it was a place to send and receive mail, buy stamps, apply for a passport, and buy postal orders and postal goods.  Also in the US, mail carriers delivered and picked up mail directly from your home.  In the UK, mail carriers only deliver mail.  If you want to mail something, you either have to stamp it and drop it into the post box, or you take it into the post office.  Since I am still getting used to the different postage rates, it is always best for me to go directly into the post office.  They have so many rules about the thickness, size and weight of the mail, that unless I have the right equipment, I would not be able to determine the postage on my own.  Of course, the US recently made changes in this area, so things are getting bad in that regard as well.  But, since the US uses a larger margin of weight for its mail, it’s easier to determine the amount of postage required.

Although the UK mail offers practically everything the US ones do, there are other differences.  First of all, the UK mail system is so complex and part of it is deregulated.  Don’t ask what that means, because I’m not sure anyone has a clear understanding of it.  Although postal workers are still civil servants, post offices are individually owned, but they are government licensed.  Therefore, the rates they charge are determined by Royal Mail.

One of the major differences is the role of the post office in daily life.  Not only do they provide postal services, they also function as a bank.  You can set up savings accounts and pay bills (council tax, TV licensing, etc.).  Also important is paying your vehicle tax.  You can either pay car tax at the post office or at the DVLA; however, the post office is much more convenient.  Also, the post office can draw your state pension and hand out your cash or deposit it into your bank account.  They have expanded their services to include offering insurance for everything.  And, last but not least, they have gotten into telecommunications.  They offer plans for phone, broadband, cell phones, and TV.  They  have certainly expanded in recent years.

So, whereas, in the US the postal service is simply a post office, the UK post office is so much more.