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UPS has terms and conditions (PDF) that include the following:

4. Customs Clearance
When a shipment requires customs clearance, it is the shipper’s obligation to provide, or to ensure that the receiver will provide, UPS with complete and accurate documentation for the purpose but UPS will, unless instructed otherwise, act on behalf, at the expense and at the risk of the shipper or receiver in obtaining customs clearance. Provided that, in the case of shipments whose points of dispatch and destination are both within the same customs area, UPS only performs customs clearance if instructed to do so. The shipper also agrees that UPS may be considered as being the receiver of the package or the shipment for the sole purpose of appointing a customs broker to carry out any customs clearance insofar as is allowed by law

They've used these terms to charge me an additional "brokerage fee" for a package I sent. The charge is 113.29 euros and the package won't be released unless I pay them. But at no point is the amount stated to the user - they could well have charged a 1000 euros and I'd still be on the hook for that.

In my case, the contents of my package were worth less than the broker fee. Is it even legal to have T&C that just let them charge anything they want? Is there an ombudsman or some other government body to whose attention I can bring this to?

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It's in a different document - and probably a regular fee.

UPS Service Guide [Singapore] explains for example what brokerage fees are. In general, they are to cover UPS' expenses that they incurred paying your import taxes when the package came into the country. A price listing for UPS services for Germany, also lists various customs and brokerage items. Among the brokerage fees, there's a single line item that has a percentage price: Disbursement Fee. The pricing there is listed as:

UPS customs brokers are experienced with complex commercial shipments. Electronic transmissions of shipment data helps speed customs clearance. UPS may prepay duties, taxes and other government charges on behalf of the payer. Disbursement charges are noted in the Additional Charges Table.

€6 per shipment having an intrinsic value lower or equal to €22, €12,50 minimum or 2,50% of the advanced amount when the intrinsic value of the goods exceed €22.

Deducting the Bonded Transfer Handling Fee, the price tag for the item would need to be in the ballpark of 3547,60 € to incur a disbursement fee of 88,69 €, which is their fee for lending you the taxes and duties for the item.

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  • Thanks, my package was worth 115 euros (100 GBP) per the commercial invoice. It consisted of personal effects and a couple of weeks ago, the UPS customer service confirmed that I didn't need to pay any customs duty on it since I declared that it was entirely composed of personal effects. Even if I paid duty, it would be not that much. So I'm not sure why the broker fee was so high Oct 6, 2023 at 11:26
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    @user1936752 I suspect that Customs disagreed with your personal effects label and that was the cause of the issue.
    – Tiger Guy
    Oct 6, 2023 at 13:14
  • @user1936752 you might want to inquire about the exact splitdown of all charges - and as you say 100 GBP I assume the german table does not apply but the british one - you might need to look that up
    – Trish
    Oct 6, 2023 at 14:20
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Taking a broader view …

It is perfectly legal for a contract clause to be in effect a “blank cheque”; or more accurately a right to levy charges that cannot be determined in advance and may be substantial.

Some examples:

  • A liquidated damages clause imposing a per diem amount for each data project is delivered late.
  • An indemnity against suits bought by third parties.
  • A cost plus contract where the buyer agrees to pay the vendor’s costs plus a percentage margin.

There is nothing inherently unlawful about such clauses although, in practice, they do tend to lead to higher levels of dissatisfaction and dispute than clauses where the costs are known up front.

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