Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
R.N. writes: I bought an antique clock at auction in Vienna, and arranged for packing and shipping using UPS.
I had full clearance instructions in triplicate attached to the parcel, but through ignorance or arrogance UPS made all of the three potential errors in calculating tax and duties.
Tony Hetherington replies: Don’t you just love it when the customer turns out to know more than the people getting paid for providing a service?
I know I do – I once sacked a firm of solicitors who demanded all sorts of personal information from me, falsely claiming it was their legal duty under money-laundering regulations, right up to the point that it became clear I knew more about those regulations than they did.
Flight of fancy: UPS made all of the three potential errors in calculating tax and duties
With you, UPS could hardly have picked on a worse customer to shower with demands that were simply wrong. The clock you bought was between 100 and 250 years old, so value added tax (VAT) should only be due at 5 per cent. UPS tried to charge you 20 per cent.
There is no import duty on antiques of this sort, but UPS slapped an import duty charge on your bill. And UPS based its VAT calculation on the whole amount of the invoice from the Vienna auction house. Instead, the VAT should only be due on the ‘hammer price’ – the €1,400 (about £1,200) you bid – and not on the additional buyer’s premium and Austrian VAT.
The result of all this was that when the UPS driver turned up at your door, he demanded £321. The correct amount should have been £82, and that would have included UPS’s own clearance fee of £12. You refused to pay.
And why do I say that UPS picked the wrong customer to overcharge? Well, they could never have expected that you used to be a senior official at the European Commission, where your specialist field was customs duties and VAT. You were involved in drawing up all those rules that UPS got wrong and you got right. All UPS needed to do was follow the instructions you helpfully attached to the parcel.
When I asked UPS to comment, it told me: ‘The package was successfully delivered to the customer on the first attempt, and the invoice discrepancy has been resolved without additional cost to the customer.’
When you try to overcharge a customer by more than £200, it’s a bit rich to describe this as an ‘invoice discrepancy’! And to say that UPS sorted this out ‘without additional cost’ leaves me wondering how they could possibly have demanded more when they were demanding too much in the first place.
When I relayed this to you, you had received your antique clock but told me that the delivery was actually rescheduled five times. And you still had no correct bill, and no proof of import or customs clearance.
So, I went back to UPS, which said: ‘Of course, there are cases where technical or clerical errors occur; we take care to resolve them for our customers.’ A few days later, UPS gave you a corrected invoice and paperwork. And as a gesture of goodwill, it has cancelled the £82 charge. About time.
Help…BT is ruining business
N.H. writes: My son and I run a small firm in St Helens, Merseyside, and we are at our wits’ end because BT will not reinstate our phone line.
We have been without a telephone line for over four weeks. This is grinding our business to a halt.
Cut off: N.H.’s small firm has been without a telephone line for over four weeks
Tony Hetherington replies: You told me BT came to your firm to repair the line, and then there was a discussion about renewing your contract.
BT sent a new router, and then your phone went dead. Using different phones, you called BT a number of times, speaking to someone in another country and going through the same security questions each time, but nobody solved the problem.
You are now close to the point where jobs are at stake. I contacted BT on your behalf.
Three days later, it issued an apology, saying: ‘Due to an error in our records, the original order was routed to the incorrect exchange.’
An engineer came to your company on the same day and set up an interim telephone line. Your broadband is working, and your original number has now been reactivated as well.
We’re watching you
Investors who put their savings into shares in medicinal cannabis company Orange River Capital may now have to count the cost of their decision as the business looks likely to disappear in a puff of smoke.
The company’s shares were marketed with the prospect of 15 per cent annual dividends and 300 per cent capital gains, but it has failed to file accounts that were legally due in May.
Bad taste: Cannabis company Orange River Capital looks likely to disappear in a puff of smoke
Officials at Companies House have begun proceedings to have it compulsorily struck off and dissolved. Investors say dividends due last January and in July have not been paid.
I warned in September last year that the share offering was riddled with false claims. It was promoted in marketing emails by London financial newspaper CityA.M., but the formal offer document named a director who had already quit, and claimed backing from a firm of stockbrokers that had gone into liquidation.
And it advertised its ‘proven track record’ while at the same time its own filings showed it had not yet traded.
Worse perhaps, the man behind the share offering falsified his own track record. Lee Farbrace, 45, of Folkestone in Kent, listed five directorships on his CV, but left out his role as boss of EMI Wealth Limited.
An investor who poured £130,000 into the business got back just £30,000. The company was compulsorily struck off and dissolved last October. Farbrace did not reply to repeated invitations to comment on complaints that his latest venture now owes money to investors.
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If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email [email protected]. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.