Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Postal Services

10:45 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his attendance. I had tabled this matter last week and, as happens with some Topical Issues, time moved on and it became a little less topical. However, over the last two weeks I had queries from a number of constituents around the same time. I am sure the Minister of State has anticipated the arrival of parcels from loved ones abroad over the years and especially during the Covid pandemic. I think of our emigrants in countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States who have not been able to return home to Ireland and who have not been able to visit parents, see grandchildren or meet uncles, aunts or cousins. The next best option for them to show their love, aside from Zoom calls and telephone calls, is to send a gift, parcel or goody to mark a particular occasion, whether it is an anniversary or a birthday.

I know the Minister of State can imagine and appreciate the great disappointment on the receiving end in Ireland when a much anticipated gift is expected but never arrives. I have had a number of examples of that. A mother whose daughter and grandchildren live abroad, in Australia, sent gifts - this is just one example of many but it is typical - only to see those gifts returned to sender, causing a lot of disappointment, upset and frustration on both ends. Particular anniversaries and occasions have been missed and have failed to be marked in the way family members had hoped. They then learned the reason the gifts or parcels were not being received was because of a change in procedures. One was as a result of Brexit and the other related to the implementation of EU laws on data and custom codes. The barcode on the parcel being sent did not contain the required data that was obliged to be on it.

Of course, it is not just gifts. People who use the likes of Amazon and other international online retailers and wholesalers and who purchase goods from outside the EU, which now includes the UK, suffer the same frustration.

The gift, parcel, book, tool, article of clothing, shoes or whatever a customer has bought - so much shopping is now done online - does not arrive and is returned because it does not contain the required data or, in some cases, because the recipient does not realise they have to pay a tariff. In the meantime, some issues have arisen and I will get to some of those in the second part of the question.

I am curious that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance is here to take the question because An Post customer care staff are the ones who are at the coalface, taking all the complaints from disappointed customers as opposed to any other responsible Department or statutory agency with authority over this issue or that is responsible. I have a couple of other questions to ask but that has laid out the matter initially. I am grateful that the Minister of State is here to take the question.

10:55 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. He will be aware that this is a tax and customs issue which brings into the responsibility of the Department of Finance as the parent Department involved.

Revenue has provided some general information that will help to explain the general situation as described by the Deputy. What he has outlined to the House certainly happened. There is no question about that. I will outline some of the background to the issue.

Revenue is Ireland's tax and customs administration and is responsible for managing the importation and exportation of goods in accordance with EU customs rules and relevant national legislation. Customs controls are necessary to protect public health and to ensure food safety and product standards, and to protect people from fraud or from unfair international competition, thus preserving jobs for European workers, including Irish workers. I am advised by Revenue that across the European Union, electronic customs importation declarations are now required for all parcels and packages coming from non-EU countries, including those coming through the postal system, regardless of the value of the goods being sent. This includes parcels and packages coming from the UK, which is no longer a part of the EU as a result of its decision to leave the Union. While goods valued at less than €150 may not be liable to a customs duty, since 1 July, all goods imported into the European Union, not just Ireland, regardless of their value, are liable to VAT. It is important to emphasise that those rules apply to all non-EU country exports by economic operators, by which I mean courier companies or An Post. This is happening right across the EU. A VAT declaration form must accompany such packages.

Recognising the volume of e-commerce low-value goods being imported, the EU developed an import declaration which contains significantly less information than the standard import declaration. However, this is not suitable for all e-commerce goods, particularly those that may be subject to a prohibition or restriction, for example, products such as foodstuffs, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. While a simplified declaration may be appropriate in certain instances which will be and is of help to importers, the types of goods I mentioned may require a full customs declaration. That means the relevant economic operator, whether the postal authority or a major transport company, requires a significant amount of data about goods in order to lodge the required documentation. This means that each of the operators must consider and examine their supply chain to ensure they are in possession of all the necessary information to complete this documentation.

I am advised by the Revenue that in the context of parcels and packages, while customs declarations are often submitted by the courier business or postal operator on behalf of the recipient in Ireland, the information required to complete the declaration is generally supplied by the exporting party although the importer, that is, the recipient or customer in Ireland, may also provide information to the postal operator that is needed to complete the transaction and declaration. This highlights the challenges for economic operators and the importance of each economic operator considering and examining their supply chain to ensure they are in possession of all necessary information. The reason parcels are being held up is because insufficient information was supplied on the customs declaration to start with and the quality of the information has been the reason for the delay. This regime came in on 1 July. I was pleased to hear the Deputy say the problems in recent weeks have not been as extensive as they were originally when the new regulations came in. The regulations apply across the EU, as I said. I look forward to hearing further from the Deputy.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. One of the things that has happened since I submitted this as a Topical Issue matter last Tuesday is that An Post has issued a helpful explanatory document for consumers. It arrived in my house today. It explains and outlines exactly what the Minister of State said. I just want to raise a couple of questions arising from the Minister of State's answer. I take on board the fact that the EU developed an import declaration because of Brexit and other issues. I also acknowledge the fact that Revenue issued information to both businesses and consumers. It also followed up with relevant advice and information relating to changes that came into effect from 1 July. However, this issue is still swirling around among the public. I am intrigued, because the Minister of State represents the Department of Finance and this is a Revenue issue, as to why An Post has taken this matter into its own hands and seen fit to circulate to the public a detailed explanatory note that is simple to read and follow.

An Post's customer service staff are the ones at the coalface on this issue. They receive the queries from and complaints of the public and listen to their frustration. It is not Revenue staff who are at the coalface in that regard.

I wish to raise a couple of other issues. The following is outside the Minister of State's remit, but this issue coincides with the people being bombarded with fake texts telling them their package has arrived. That is causing a lot of confusion because those texts send the recipient to a link which is probably a spam link that may corrupt a person's mails, etc.

I want to raise another question which I know is for the business side of the House. I have heard from a number of constituents who bought online from a .ienamed address, paid for the product online and then, when they received it, had to pay customs because the product was coming from outside the EU, even though the website in question had a .ieaddress. The people affected thought they were buying from Ireland. It was not the customs they were complaining about, but the fact that they had wanted to buy Irish and discovered the product was actually coming from outside the EU.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The issue of domain addresses is separate and I thank the Deputy for highlighting it. I inquired today about the phone calls and text messages people are getting about packages being delivered where the caller or correspondent claims to need information. I am told that issue is unconnected. It is a coincidence that a lot of it is happening at this time.

This issue affects everybody importing who has to file a customs declaration. That is why the Department of Finance is involved. The main operator of importing a parcel into the country is definitely An Post. That is why people in An Post are the front-line people dealing with the issue. The Department of Finance has, in effect, set out the legislation. The Revenue and customs officials are the State representatives responsible. They are based in the parcel departments in the main plants of An Post throughout the country, especially in my own area of Portlaoise and in Dublin. An Post is at the front line. I would say, for the record, that all other people who bring in items, companies such as DHL, DPD, Fastway Couriers and FedEx, are equally responsible but perhaps the problem has not been felt by them to the same extent because they have bigger parcels and all the documentation is laid out. It could have been happening in those other companies as well but because An Post deals with more small parcels than the other companies I have mentioned, it has experienced a high volume of difficulties.

An Post indicated it was going to deliver a guide to shopping online to homes nationwide from this week. I am pleased to hear the Deputy received his yesterday. An Post is a day ahead of us and I compliment it on that. An Post reports that only a small percentage are affected but the bottom line is that there is a question about the quality of information and regulation within the EU. The reason we are having more issues is as a result of Brexit and because Irish people buy more from the UK than from the rest of the world. That is why. We have a double problem with Brexit and the UK situation. The regulation applies overall. The issue is really that those people who are sending the documentation in the first place must make sure they provide adequate information for the relevant authorities on both sides.