Sir Robert Smith MP writes…Retailers must end excessive delivery charges

Earlier this week I launched my Fairer Delivery Charges campaign. The campaign calls on online retailers to end excessive delivery surcharges and to make surcharges more transparent on their websites.

People in the North East of Scotland and in the Highlands and Islands are fed up with the excessive surcharges that some online retailers charge.  The campaign is about making sure that consumers no longer have to pay these ridiculous surcharges.   Recent examples from constituents that have contacted me include someone who lives five miles outside of Aberdeen being charged £60 instead of £20 for delivery and someone else being told that they will need to pay £20 for delivery of a small item costing less than £15.

Not only is this a cause for frustration and anger for consumers, but the surcharges can also make it harder for small businesses based in the North of Scotland to compete.

A report published last year by Citizens Advice Scotland, highlighted the extent of the problem. The report showed that residents in the North of Scotland could face delivery charges that were double or triple the charges for elsewhere in the UK.  Sometimes the charges were five times as high.  Citizens Advice Scotland estimated that around 1 million people in Scotland were affected by the issue, with those in the North East and the Highlands and Islands facing particularly high surcharges.

As part of the campaign, I have brought a Bill to Parliament which would make it compulsory for websites to declare the presence of surcharges before consumers even start to browse.  The Delivery Surcharges (Transparency for Consumers) Bill will be debated on Friday 13 September.  Consumers are particularly frustrated by websites that do not declare the extent of surcharges until the end of the shopping process.  This is against current consumer law and a website which does this can be reported to Trading Standards.  However I want websites to be even more transparent and declare any surcharges before you even start shopping.  That way consumers could decide whether it’s worth their while to take the time to browse the website.

As well as highlighting excessive surcharges, the campaign is calling on retailers who charge surcharges to offer delivery by Royal Mail as an alternative.  Because of the Universal Service Obligation, Royal Mail delivers packets and packages at a uniform price across the UK.

The petition calling for fairer delivery charges can be signed here.  If anyone has examples of excessive delivery charges or websites that only declare delivery surcharges right at the end of the purchasing process please contact either your MP or contact me at [email protected].  This will help me persuade retailer’s organisations of the need to enforce changes and will also enable particularly bad websites to be referred to Trading Standards.

* Sir Robert Smith is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

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  • Eddie Sammon 12th Sep '13 - 12:04pm

    No to state control of prices.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Sep '13 - 12:06pm

    Asking for more transparency is good, but banging on about “fairer prices” won’t chime with many people.

  • Paul Edgeworth 12th Sep '13 - 12:09pm

    I don’t think that photo is of Sir Robert Smith MP!!

  • A post in support of the Royal Mail on the day a Liberal Democrat announces its sell off…

  • I agree that surcharges should be more transparent, but I’m not sure why you think delivery surcharges are exessive?
    Is this not the same arguament as petrol prices being more costly the further into the Highlands that you go, and similarly with rural broadband? It may be a pain, but are not all services generally, going to be more expensive, the more ‘out of the way’, you are from towns and conurbations?
    Maybe this is an issue to be sorted out post independence?

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Sep '13 - 12:35pm

    I also think that that is not Robert Smith MP! However, LDV’s accidental linking of this article to a quite different Robert Smith who wrote an article for the site four years ago led me on a serendipitous wander to the days before coalition, and this gem of an observation from May 2009:

    Also, the idea that we’ll drop policies like this [electoral reform] and tuition fees as soon as we get into power is patently ridiculous

    Ah, innocent times.

  • Andrew Emmerson 12th Sep '13 - 1:02pm

    Shock as less accessible places have higher delivery charges.

  • Andy Boddington 12th Sep '13 - 1:35pm

    Thanks to everyone who noted that we used a photo of the wrong Robert Smith!

  • Graham Martin-Royle 12th Sep '13 - 3:51pm

    And when the Post Office is sold off, being a commercial business they will charge as high a price as they can to make a profit.

  • “However I want websites to be even more transparent and declare any surcharges before you even start shopping.”

    Not particularly useful, many (UK) websites already provide an explicit “Delivery” link to a page that details their charges. However, until you have actually selected items all of this information is pretty immaterial as the delivery on your order is based on a consideration of size and weight, having this then enables the customer to compare delivery time options and costs. The only frustration with respect to costs is those websites that don’t offer a Royal Mail option and hence your small parts order has to be couriered rather than posted. Finally we shouldn’t forget that until a delivery option has been chosen, can the VAT due be correctly calculated.

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