Thursday 20 September 2012

Rip-Off Britain

The term "Rip-Off Britain" has been used for many years to describe things which cost more in the UK than in other countries. Of course, rogue traders exist everywhere, and odd things often happen with prices of identical products which are sold in different countries. In this, Britain is really no worse on average than anywhere else. However we've found that to really be ripped off by Britain you need to emigrate.

A case on point, we recently had to renew our British passports. This, according to the British Government's own web page in the UK, costs £72.50 per passport, including postage (they recommend paying an additional £8.75 to the post office for more secure postage).

However, we live in the Netherlands and cannot order our passports in the same way. In order to receive our renewed passports we had to navigate a remarkably complex website and send our original documents to France (the British embassy in the Netherlands doesn't do useful things like this). The procedure for doing this is very odd indeed.

According to the website for the "Regional Passport Processing Centre" (this "region" being somewhat larger than the whole of the UK), the cost per passport is €170 per person, plus a €27 courier fee.

The interest/charge was levied for one of the two completely
un-necessary currency conversion, from Pounds to Euros.
Sadly, the processing centre only accepts payment through a choice of two American companies (Mastercard or Visa). For that reason it was not possible for us to pay in Euros from our Euro bank account to their Euro bank account. Instead, we had to pay from our British bank account in Pounds.

The eventual amount taken from our bank account in the UK for two British passports which would have cost £145 delivered in Britain was £309.20 - a rip-off margin of 213% relative to what it would have cost if we still lived in the UK.

That's the result of several things put together:
  1. The price for a passport is set arbitrarily higher for us than it would have been if we still lived in the UK.
  2. The higher cost of postage (I have no argument with this, but it is a small part, rather less than 10%, of the total).
  3. The bizarre requirement that payments made from a British citizen to the British government must always be processed through an American commercial corporation who take their cut.
  4. The cost of two currency exchanges - from Pounds to Euros and back again to Pounds as presumably the money is supposed to end up in the UK.
At least we have ten years before this can be forced on us again.

Update 2018: Well, we thought we had ten years. Actually, six years later we became Dutch as a result of the brexit referendum endangering our right to live in our own home. It's cost us a hundred times more than merely having to buy our passports from the UK.

Because our British bank doesn't seem to believe that merely living outside the country means we're no longer residents, our British bank account still has tax deducted from it as if we lived in the UK, meaning that we are double taxed on the small amount of money which remains in that country.

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