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Customs and the VAT man nobble agility team

A MAJOR ‘diplomatic’ incident threatened to put paid to the hopes of the American Kennel Club’s canine Agility Team to compete in Crufts’ International Agility competition.

On Wednesday last week, just 24 hours before Crufts started, several of the AKC’s dogs were virtually impounded by custom’s officers at Gatwick Airport who refused to release the dogs unless their owners paid thousands of pounds in VAT charges. However, the near disaster was averted thanks to the timely intervention of OUR DOGS newspaper.

The dogs had been flown to the UK under the Pet passport system and all their paperwork, vaccinations, identification etc. were perfectly in order. However, unbeknown to their owners, VAT was deemed chargeable by customs, albeit refundable at the time of the owners’ departure back to the States. However, the owners were horrified to be charged several thousand pounds per dog on the basis of the dogs’ value. There followed an angry confrontation between the owners and the customs officials.

In a bid to break the impasse, OUR DOGS Agility Correspondent Sheena Clarke, who was meeting the team phoned the OUR DOGS office to report that there was a problem. Assistant Editor Anne Williams was just leaving for the NEC when the call came through and referred to the call to Chief Reporter Nick Mays at his home. Nick in turn spoke to Sheena, assessed the situation that was now a virtual standoff between customs officials and owners, then telephoned the Crufts Press Office at the NEC. KC Press Officer Sara Ward. Sara quickly called the KC’s Meg Purnell-Carpenter into the Press Office in an attempt to break the deadlock.

Charged

Meg, who runs Overhill Kennels near Bristol, takes up the story: "I was aghast that they were being charged VAT at all, let alone thousands of pounds," she said. "I phoned my own Handling Agent who works for my kennels and he told me that they shouldn’t gave been charged VAT at all under the PETS scheme, even if it was refundable upon departure.

"I then spoke to Sheena who said the exhibitors had bitten the bullet and paid the money, simply to get their dogs out of the airport where they’d been stick for hours. What I learned form this was that the owners had told the customs officers that their dogs were each worth thousands of pounds, rather than underplaying their monetary value. So of course, they were charged a percentage of the stated value accordingly. I gather that the customs officers were also under the impression that they’d earn a lot of money from the dogs competing in agility, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth!"

Meg then spoke to the leader of the team and smoothed the way for the remainder of the AKC Agility Team who were due to land later that day, telling her to specify only a low monetary value for the dogs, thus preventing a further fiasco.

"From what I can make out, not only did they get VAT on the value of the dogs, they were also charged VAT on the freight," adds Meg. "For my sins, I’ve been asked by the KC to organise the flights and passage of the dogs to the NEC in 2006, which I’m happy to do, seeing as I’m in the kenneling business and regularly handle pet passport clients and also pets from countries requiring quarantine. I can’t say all I’d like to right now, but let’s just say I have some plans in mind to make the whole process a lot smoother next year and maybe even allow the dogs to arrive a couple of days earlier and give them time to acclimatise and settle down.

"One thing’s for sure – we’ll be going for zero VAT charges if we can!"