Algarve removal companies battle ‘bitter pill of Brexit’

Customers relocating to Portugal face massive new charges.

Algarve removal companies have had a lot more than the pandemic to deal with since January 1. The minute they came back to work after New Year, post-Brexit red-tape started winding itself round their businesses to the point of asphyxiation. Customers relocating to Portugal from UK have been faced with having to pay massive amounts of duty to get their personal effects through customs, or making the decision to delay their moves until the problems are sorted…

The truth is there should not be any duty on second-hand furniture and equipment being brought into Portugal – certainly if it relates to people moving here permanently.

But the reality is that the paperwork required by Portuguese customs ‘doesn’t even exist’, according to the director of Algarve Removals, John Scott.

“To give you an example, we have been told that one of the first bits of paper customers need to show is an ‘original baggage certificate’ … but if you go online to try and find out how to get one of these, you find the only place offering them is the Portuguese Consulate in Newark, New Jersey!

“Basically, the issue is that Portugal hasn’t got itself together, and ends up asking us for an ever-increasing list of documents to the point that it’s easier for some customers to simply pay the 14% duty and the 23% IVA on top of the removals costs and get their items through. It’s either that or they are delaying their moves altogether.”

For a company that used to have an annual turnover of two and a half million pounds, Algarve Removals is suddenly looking at ‘almost zero business’.

“I’ve got the warehouse in Maldon, Essex, packed with crates just waiting for this mess to be sorted,” John told us. “I don’t know what the answer is. Right now, we are moving for people prepared to pay the extra charges – but business is down to about 5% of what we would normally do. It’s just not sustainable…”

House moves, however, are not the only service Algarve Removals has been performing for the last 15+ years.

The family-run company delivers goods for dozens of outlets and operations run by British expats – and these goods now are all liable for import duty and 23% VAT.

The duty varies according to the goods coming in. For example, an interior design company in Loulé recently faced paying out an extra €1200 bill for duty on bringing in what John described as “a few rolls of wallpaper”.

“The implications for the Algarve are huge,” he said. “This will cause even more unemployment as businesses become unviable … I am talking about all kinds of businesses, from high end service outlets to shops selling animal feed, even craftspeople who import raw materials.”

The changes have also meant that Algarve Removals will almost certainly have to give up the ‘charitable’ runs it did, bringing over second-hand equipment from UK for local firefighting stations.

“We never charged for those in the past,” he said. “Now we won’t be able to afford not to…”

In John’s opinion, this is an issue that needs to be tackled, and tackled fast. “It needs someone powerful, or an alliance of people to put something together. Otherwise, it’s sending out the message that Portugal is definitely not interested in ‘welcoming Brits’…”

Direct Transport, another family firm operating in the region, says it too is finding the way ahead hugely challenging. Like John Scott, Direct Transport is holding a lot of items back in its Andover warehouse as it tries to sort through all the paperwork.

“It’s looking promising,” said Wendy Hallam, but Brexit has changed the landscape ‘enormously’ and left everyone having to ‘reinvent themselves’.

“We have to try and find solutions wherever we can,” she told us, admitting “it’s an absolute nightmare”, particularly for the shops and supermarkets that Direct Transport has been keeping stocked with supplies from UK.

The situation in Spain is exactly the same. Family hauliers Howells, based in Alicante, told us: “Every day there is something else we’re told we need to present. If customers can show all the paperwork that’s required, then in theory they will be able to bring their household goods into the country free of duty – but everyone is different, every situation is different, and getting all the paperwork together in a worldwide pandemic is no easy matter at all.”

Said Anne Marie of Howells: “I’ve been working on this for months but it still all came crashing down around my ears when we came into the office after New Year.”

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