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Internet firm slams UK govt over fags

Not quite smoke and mirrors

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The UK government is attempting to illegally put the frighteners on smokers buying their requisites over the Internet, a dot.com has alleged.

Representatives at www.lowpricecigarettes.com claimed last week that HM Customs & Excise are seizing consignments of fags ordered from its Web site, in contravention of European rules on free trade.

The firm was responding to letters from HM Customs' "Seizure Seat" in Feltham which customers have been receiving. The profit making arm of the UK government has intercepted boxes of cigarettes ordered from the site and claims that rules which allow individual smokers to import boxes of tabs for their own use do not apply when couriers, such as the Post Office, are used.

Said lowpricecigarettes.com in an email to The Register: "You may receive a notification from UK Customs and Excise saying that the package had been seized under the section 139 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 as liable to forfeiture under Section 49 (1) of the Customs and Excise management Act 1979 or Regulation 16 of the Excise Goods (holding Movement, Warehousing and REDS) Regulations 1992.

"We are shipping products world wide in a very discreet packaging and no other country except UK has problems. Of course in no other part of the world cigarettes are so expensive as they are in UK, but this is another story."

The firm is advising its customers as follows: "Firstly, rest assure that you as a person has no legal problem at all (sic). The letter you may receive or may have received from Customs is to scare you and nothing else. In some old cases where clients had received similar letters and continued shopping had no problems whatsoever. Secondly, if indeed the packages are seized we suggest you call HM Customs and specifically state that you are not willing to pay any additional tax for the supposed gift and therefore decline accepting it and ask for its return to the send. It is your legal right."

Customs, however, seems to take a different view. P. Woollatt, the "Review Officer" at the Seizure Seat in Feltham, said: "Tobacco products may not be consigned to an address in the United Kingdom from another member state in the European Union unless prior arrangements have been made... for paying or accounting for the duty."

Woolatt said: "Purchasing cigarettes to be delivered to you in this country from a vendor situated in an another (sic) Member State of the EC is known as "distance selling" and therefore is liable to both UK Excise Duty and VAT."

Woolatt added that "it does not matter that goods are 'tax paid' in the country of despatch, they remain liable to Excise duty and VAT on importation into the UK."

UK smokers who wish to appeal against Customs seizures may be required to pay the full costs of the civil case the government department is obliged to bring if they disagree.

Says Woollatt: "These are civil, rather than criminal proceedings at which you or your legal representative should be present to show cause why the goods should not be forfeited. It will then be a matter for the court to decide whether the goods are liable to forfeiture or not. The court will also decide the awarding of costs."

So let's analyse this a bit. If you bring a white van through Dover with thousands of tabs for your own use that's OK, but if you ask the Post Office or Fedex to deliver a packet of Rothmans straight to your door, because you're old, retired or sick (possibly due to cigarette abuse) you are bang to rights. Or have we got that one wrong? ®

Reg FactOid 667

Mike Magee used to be a Customs Officer. Mike Magee is not a smoker. A packet of Gitanes at £4.30 for 20 costs nearly three times less twenty miles away from the UK in Calais than it does in London.

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