Herts charity in limbo as even HMRC can't explain new Brexit rules

Angus Clark Herts for Refugees

Angus Clark, CEO of Herts for Refugees, says the charity has been unable to ship aid to Europe for weeks due to confusion over Brexit rules. - Credit: Herts for Refugees

MPs have asked the government to urgently clarify new Brexit rules after a Herts charity said confusion had left it unable to ship vital international aid.

Herts for Refugees sends water, clothing, tents, sleeping bags and toiletries to refugee camps in France and Greece.

But since January 1, said CEO Angus Clark, it has been unable to do so – because officials claim there is no guidance on how to do it.

“I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to establish what we need to do,” he said.

“I’ve spent hours on the phone to HMRC... but they just don’t have the information. Their position is that they don’t know. That’s it, basically. They can’t help me with information because it doesn’t exist.”

Mr Clark said similar charities across the UK were experiencing the same problem.

Shipping companies “don’t know if they can’t take our aid because they have no means of classifying it,” he said.

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When he rang HMRC, he was told the department he needed to speak to could only be contacted by email. When he emailed, he received an auto-reply saying it would take up to 15 working days to respond.

The department eventually responded by sending him advice on how to import goods into the UK – the opposite of what he had asked about.

When he replied to point out the error, he received another auto-response telling him it could take up to 15 working days to reply.

In the meantime, three or four aid shipments had been held up.

“It’s just ridiculous,” he said. “My main concern is there are children who are not getting the warm clothing they need.”

Maddy Bloxham Herts for Refugees

Volunteer Maddy Bloxham amid 65,000 litres of water the charity has previously shipped to refugees in France. - Credit: Herts for Refugees

Two Herts MPs are now trying to help.

Lib Dem Daisy Cooper has asked the government to urgently clarify the rules, while Conservative Bim Afolami has “raised the matter with senior officials at both HMRC and the Department for International Trade.”

“It is shocking that refugee charities are left in limbo, with even the government’s own officials saying they do not know what the rules are,” said Mrs Cooper.

A HMRC spokesperson said customs duty was not owed on humanitarian goods but “some customs procedures” would have to be followed.

They added: “Charities should check what is required with the relevant member state or read their guidance published online.”