Q&As and counting

September 2016

Importing goods - Liability of consignee/buyer for unpaid duties, GST and other charges

September 2016


Dear Mentor

My client is in dispute with overseas supplier about some goods she bought online.

The agreement was for the goods to be delivered to her shop.

The goods are held at Customs.

My client refuses to clear Customs and take the goods.

The goods are incurring daily storage charges.

The freight company say they never deliver goods back overseas.

My understanding of the situation is, the Customs and transport company are not privy to the contract between my client and the overseas supplier.

The only party that has standing to sue my client for these storage fees will be the overseas supplier, but not the custom or freight company.

Am I right?



Thank you for the question.

The Customs Act allows Customs to pursue unpaid import taxes and other charges from the "owner" of the goods, a term which under the Act includes both the importer and consignee. See for example s 165 of the Customs Act 1901. There is no requirement for the title to the goods to pass to the client in order for her to be classified as an owner.

Studio Fashion (Australia) Pty Ltd v The CEO of Customs [2015] AATA 366 dealt with the liability of a customer for unpaid duty and GST. In this case the foreign supplier contractually had the responsibility for importing the goods and paying any relevant duty and GST. Customs argued that parties' contractual arrangements regarding payment of duty did not alter the obligations to pay duty under the Customs Act. Customs pursued the Australian customer as there were poor prospects of recovery from the foreign supplier/importer. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal held that the Australian customer was liable for the unpaid duty and GST even though the parties agreed that the supplier was responsible for the importation of the goods, and payment of customs duty and GST.