Saturday, 08 May 2021
A FARMER who sends healthcare products for horses all over Europe says his life has been made a misery by Brexit.
Sam Austin runs Oak Farm in Harpsden Bottom and has a separate business called Red Horse Products that has been affected by changes to international exports.
The UK left the European Union in January last year but many of the existing regulations stayed the same until the beginning of this year to help with the transition.
Mr Austin, 41, says that dealing with individual countries with their own rules, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in a backlog of orders.
Customers are also being asked to pay a second VAT charge when parcels arrive in the country and many couriers ask for a “Brexit surcharge” to deal with the associated paperwork.
This has resulted in customers asking for refunds and Mr Austin worries he will eventually lose a huge portion of his trade.
He said: “Because of the Kent covid variant, Europe closed the borders to UK exports in the last two weeks of 2020, which meant we had a backlog of parcels to send out.
“They’ve just been putting them in warehouses and not telling us because they’ve not been able to handle the workload.
“Orders were placed in 2020 and there was no paperwork for them and no export system in place.
“The customers were charged VAT because at the time the order was placed we were still in the EU.
By the time the products went out, we were outside the EU, so they had to pay VAT again when it got to Europe, which made customers extremely cross and many of them demanded refunds.
“I’ve immediately lost all my retail customers in Europe. When products go to Europe, they are charged VAT. Before Brexit, they would have been charged VAT anyway but then the customer gets a bill from the courier company for the second lot of VAT and then they get charged another 20 per cent by the company so that they can manage it.
“If you are charged an extra 50 per cent on a 100 per cent order, just to get it into the country, it means I end up with lots of irate emails. I then have to pay return fees to get it back and apologise to the customers.
“We are spending hours trying to get tariffs refunded to customers, which is impossible because that money has already been sent to customs.”
Mr Austin says he had concerns about the impact of Brexit on trading regulations and tariffs at the time of the 2016 referendum and he believes his fears have now been realised.
He said: “It is making my life a misery. I haven’t seen any positive impact from Brexit and from January 1, my life got significantly worse. I don’t believe for a second that anybody who voted to leave will now have a better life.
“If the Government had kept us in the single market then that would have been fine. Trading like a third country with Europe is a nightmare. We are trading with 27 different and very bureaucratic countries.
“The leave voters might say they are trying to punish us but that’s rubbish. They’re treating us in exactly the same way they would treat the USA, Canada or Brazil.
“It is going to be crippling for British business. I know of numerous companies in our sector that just can’t export at all and are now UK-only companies. It is going to be terrible for the economy.”
His family have owned the farm since 1983 and it was previously run by his 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. Mrs Austin, 37, also works on the farm, which has about 170 breeding ewes.
Red Horse Products started trading in 2007 and has grown steadily since then, gaining recognition in America and Australia, but it is particularly popular in Europe.
Mr Austin makes natural products to help mainly with hoof problems but he also sells veterinary creams and supplements to help joint and muscle conditions.
There have been further problems sending items to Spain as many of the products are made with honey and these are not accepted by the authorities.
He said: “We’ve basically lost our Spanish trade business. It had taken a really long time for us to get established and our biggest customers are in France.
“We gave money to Spanish equine charities and gave stuff to vets and we now have a booming market.
“Spain has put down the shutters and won’t let us send anything in, despite the fact that no licences are required. The products are very effective but very natural, which is why they’ve generated popularity worldwide. If they were synthetic or chemical-based, I would probably have found it easier to get them into the country.
“All of my European retail business has disappeared. We also have a large number of stockists, so they are VAT registered and can claim it back. An extra 20 per cent charge on a much bigger order is less significant for them.”
Mr Austin says the amount of work and expense to handle shipping problems into Europe has left him less time to concentrate on the farm.
He is now starting to weigh up the possibility of starting a European subsidiary, going through Ireland to retain his strong trade links.
He said: “I am spending so much time on Brexit regulations, sitting at a computer, answering emails from customers who haven’t got their packages or who have been charged too many customs fees.
“In terms of mitigation, we are paying hundreds of pounds so that our website is set up to refuse orders from certain countries when we know there is a problem.
“It is hours of work and we’re spending hundreds of pounds to pay the VAT for our retail customers and they are then charged extra.
“We’re looking at putting a distribution centre in Europe so that we only send big shipments and they only have to be cleared once.
“We are even considering a European subsidiary, which would remove 70 per cent of our business from the UK and the Government would not see any of that corporation tax. All our business would go through Ireland.”
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