Brexit is costing me time and money, says farmer
A farmer who ships horse health products across Europe says his life has been put on the brink of Brexit.
Sam Austin runs Oak Farm in Harpsden Bottom and owns a separate business called Red Horse Products which has been affected by changes in international exports.
The UK left the European Union in January last year, but many of the existing regulations remained the same until early this year to ease the transition.
Mr Austin, 41, said treating individual countries with their own rules, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in a backlog of orders.
Customers are also asked to pay a second VAT tax when packages arrive in the country and many couriers ask for a ‘Brexit surcharge’ to handle the associated paperwork.
This has led to customers asking for refunds and Mr Austin worries that he will eventually lose much of his business.
He said: ‘Due to the Kent covid variant, Europe closed borders to UK exports in the last two weeks of 2020, which meant we had a backlog of packages to send.
“They just put them in warehouses without telling us because they couldn’t handle the workload.
“The orders were placed in 2020 and there was no paperwork for them and no export system in place.
“Customers were subject to VAT because at the time the order was placed we were still in the EU.
By the time the products came out we were outside the EU so they had to pay VAT again when it got to Europe which made customers extremely reluctant and many of them demanded refunds.
“I immediately lost all of my retail customers in Europe. When the products are sent to Europe, they are charged VAT. Before Brexit they would have been charged VAT anyway, but the customer receives an invoice from the courier company for the second batch of VAT and then is charged an additional 20% by the company so they can handle it.
“If you’re charged 50% more on a 100% order just to get it into the country, that means I end up with a lot of pissed off emails. I then have to pay return shipping cost to get it back and apologize to customers.
“We spend hours trying to get the customers back the tariffs, which is impossible because this money has already been sent to customs.”
Mr Austin says he is concerned about the impact of Brexit on trade regulations and tariffs at the time of the 2016 referendum and he believes his fears have now come true.
He said, “It makes my life a mess. I did not see any positive impact from Brexit and from January 1 my life got a lot worse. I don’t believe for a second that anyone who voted to leave will have a better life any longer.
“If the government had kept us in the single market, that would have been good. Trading as a third country with Europe is a nightmare. We trade with 27 different and very bureaucratic countries.
“Holiday voters might say they’re trying to punish us, but that’s nonsense. They treat us exactly the same way they would treat the United States, Canada, or Brazil.
“It’s going to be crippling for UK businesses. I know a lot of companies in our industry that just can’t export and are now exclusively British companies. It will be terrible for the economy. ”
Her family have owned the farm since 1983 and it was previously run by her parents Tony and Lee.
Mr Austin, who grew up on the farm with his three older brothers, now lives there with his wife Louise and their daughters Islay, six, and Freya, four. Ms Austin, 37, also works on the farm, which has around 170 breeding ewes.
Red Horse Products started business in 2007 and has grown steadily since then, gaining recognition in America and Australia, but is particularly popular in Europe.
Mr. Austin makes natural products to help primarily with hoof problems, but he also sells veterinary creams and supplements to help with joint and muscle conditions.
There have been other problems sending items to Spain, as many products are made with honey and these are not accepted by the authorities.
He said: “We have practically lost our Spanish business activities. It took us a long time to establish ourselves and our biggest clients are in France.
“We have donated money to Spanish equine charities and given tips to vets and now we have a booming market.
“Spain has closed the shutters and won’t let us send anything, despite the fact that no license is required. The products are very effective but very natural, which is why they have gained popularity all over the world. If they were synthetic or chemical-based, I probably would have found it easier to get them into the country.
“All my European retail business is gone. We also have a large number of stockists, so they are registered for VAT and can recover it. An additional 20% charge on a much larger order is less for them. ”
Mr. Austin says the amount of work and expense involved in handling shipping issues in Europe left him less time to focus on the farm.
He is now starting to think about the possibility of creating a European subsidiary, passing through Ireland to keep his strong commercial links.
He said: ‘I spend so much time on Brexit regulations, sitting in front of a computer, answering emails from customers who haven’t received their packages or who have been charged too much customs fees.
“In terms of mitigation, we’re paying hundreds of pounds to have our website set up to decline orders from certain countries when we know there is a problem.
“It’s working hours and we spend hundreds of pounds paying VAT for our retail customers and then they are charged extra.
“We are considering setting up a distribution center in Europe so that we only send large shipments and only clear customs once.
“We are even considering a European subsidiary, which would take 70% of our business out of the UK and the government would see no corporate taxes. All of our business would go through Ireland. “