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Buying disability equipment from outside EU - ? customs & VAT charges

Snowbelle Member Posts: 43 Courageous
Hi Scope Community, 
I was wondering whether anyone has experience of buying mobility equipment from outside of the EU (which hasn't been specifically tailor-made to the individual) & could let me know whether you had to pay Customs duty & VAT?

I have ordered a powered tricycle attachment for a manual wheelchair.  There was a special offer with an American supplier, so I bought it from them over the local supplier as it meant saving over £100.  I forgot to think about Customs & VAT until my tracking update yesterday said it's currently being held in Customs & I started researching online.  

From what I read online, I think as it's disability equipment purchased by a disabled person, it should be eligible to be free from Customs duty & VAT.  However, it says you should apply for it before importing, but I wasn't aware of this until yesterday (Surely most people won't be!).  I phone Customs & the gentleman I spoke to thought it would still be subject to customs duty & that it is only if the equipment has been tailor-made for the disabled individual buying it that it is exempt from customs.  
If I have to pay customs & VAT it means instead of saving £100, I will have wasted over £500!!!!

I've emailed customs with declaration forms & quoting & attaching the documents I read.  Praying & crossing my fingers that they will be favourable.  

Has anyone else experience of buying/ importing disability equipment that was generic disability equipment (not tailor-made to the individual buying it.  Did you have to pay Customs duty & VAT?



  • forgoodnesssake
    forgoodnesssake Member Posts: 406 Pioneering
    It was quite a while ago (2004) but we bought a "special needs" all terrain pushchair/buggy from New Zealand where it was made and so much cheaper than buying here.  Freinds were coming over to the UK from NZ so they actually brought it.  I spoke to Customs beforehand (in Ireland somewhere) and got all the necessary paperwork which i sent on to our friends so they had it for travel.  The item was certainly not tailor made for my son, but it was specialist disability equipment and as such was zero rated.  I have never heard about stuff having to be tailor made to qualify before...
  • Chloe_Scope
    Chloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,557 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @Snowbelle, I'm sorry more people haven't been able to provide you with anymore advice about this. How are you getting on?

  • Snowbelle
    Snowbelle Member Posts: 43 Courageous
    Thanks @Chloe_Scope.  I managed to get my parcel yesterday :) it has been wonderful to be able to go for a ‘walk’ in the park again. 

    I heard back back from the local HMRC who sent me a form to complete & then emailed me back a customs exemption certificate within 24 hours.  
    I then had the dilemma of having no postal or email address to send it to.  The next morning I got a questionnaire from customs in the post with a return postal address! So I completed the questionnaire & returned it with a print out of the customs exemption certificate & 2 different completed zero VAT declarations that Id found on the HMRC website.  It was held in customs from 18th June to 3rd July - so was a long wait not being sure what would happen.  Then on 4th July when I checked tracking status I saw it had be cleared, with charges raised.  I phoned parcelforce & they told me the charge was just £12 (parcelforce processing charge) & that I could collect it the following day. 

    When i I went to pick it up I was told the local depot was querying the charge as they thought it would be a lot more & a mistake had been made.  They could only email customs as they didn’t have a phone contact.  I stayed nearby just incase & 2 hours later it was clarified it was correct as I had my customs exemption certificate & zero VAT declaration & they let me take the parcel :) 

    So summary: you can be eligible for customs exemption & zero VAT when buying disability equipment.  Ideally apply to your local customs before buying to get a customs exemption certificate.  Then ask supplier to include a copy of that & a zero VAT declaration that you both sign with the customs paperwork they send with the order.  It can take up to 30days to clear customs & you can still be charged for customs storage, testing & the couriers processing fee (so worth considering when weighing up decision of where to buy from). 

    Hope the info helps someone else in the future. 
  • Chloe_Scope
    Chloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,557 Disability Gamechanger
    This is amazing news @Snowbelle, thank you for updating us on this!! I hope it continues to be beneficial for you :)

  • Snowbelle
    Snowbelle Member Posts: 43 Courageous


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