Computer says 'no'

SIR - The British bureaucracy has finally reached levels of incompetence of which it must be incredibly proud. While awaiting a parcel from Australia, which included presents for my son s 19th birthday from his mother and sister, I received a letter from

SIR - The British bureaucracy has finally reached levels of incompetence of which it must be incredibly proud.

While awaiting a parcel from Australia, which included presents for my son's 19th birthday from his mother and sister, I received a letter from Parcelforce in Exeter on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) informing me that there was an amount owing for Import Duty, VAT and a Clearance fee totalling �73.

My initial inquiries with the parcel company informed me that Import Duty had been levied because the stated valuation on the Customs Declaration was over �18 (it was a computer thingy).So computer says no for the first time!

Such a stupendous amount! What must my wife have been thinking to send goods of such high value (a pair of jeans and sneakers plus some of my spare knickers) through the post rather than with a security company?


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I rang the HMRC phone number stated in the letter but to no avail as the "voice" continually told me that the line was busy, but if I pressed 5, I would receive a call back, for a charge, obviously.

After a day and a half of fruitless phoning I finally succumbed and pressed 5 (to hell with the expense!). The "voice" then informed me that the option was not available for that number ! Computer says no for the second time.

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I emailed the HMRC address stated in the letter giving all the relevant details (and not mentioning the cricket) and immediately received an "auto reply message" thanking me for my email and informing me that the email facility has been suspended until further notice!! Computer says no number 3!!

What's going on?? This is HM Customs Catch22 revisited.

However I was given several options :

a) pay the �73 and claim it back after supplying all documentary evidence in triplicate with a Statutory Declaration from the Australian Prime Minister that we weren't really drug barons. Fat chance of ever getting the �73 back.

b) have the parcel re-assessed by a customs officer but it may take six weeks to forward the parcel to Coventry from Exeter (presumably someone is walking it there as it is of such high value and can't be trusted in the post)

c) have the parcel returned to sender.

Hmm, a no-brainer there! So the presents go back (along with the Ashes I predict), I buy my son jeans and sneakers, and at least I'll know where my knickers are when I return.

Phil Hoult, Monkleigh.

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