Assessing Improper Accessorials

Assessing Improper Accessorials

Q: I recently signed on a new less-than-truckload carrier, and they have been billing me accessorials based on what their billers read or think they read on the bill of lading.

I have agreed to pay for a few of their accessorials (residential delivery and limited access charges).

The way this carrier operates is the biller receives the B/L when the shipment arrives at the first terminal and bills for residential delivery based on what they read as the address. If the first line does not have any verbiage that says it’s a company (i.e., “Co.”, “Inc.”, “LLC”), they tack on the residential accessorial.

We have proved to them many times that their billers are looking right past the first line if they cannot quickly identify it as a company.

I would not expect to pay this unless it was an actual residence, and my approach with them is that they should be billing me based on what the driver marks on the B/L, not what the biller may think is a residence. The driver can tell if it is a residence or not, and I would think that would be the legal way of billing for a shipment.

It occurs on the limited access charge as well. They may think it may be a location that will take additional time but have no proof and just arbitrarily bill us for it.

We have to prove ourselves innocent to get the charges removed, and I am sure we may be missing some of them as we have thousands of shipments a week.

Is there a legal process billers are to follow so charges are correctly invoiced, or is it basically how the company chooses to operate?

A: It’s pretty much how the company chooses to operate, but there’s more to it.

The carrier can’t breach its pre-shipment commitment on how charges will apply, but I’m not sure it is — at least not in all cases. You’re somewhat mistaking the nature of both these charges.

You named the carrier, and I did some online research into its tariffs. You may not think you’ve “signed on” to them, but I’ll bet your agreement includes reference to their basic rules tariff, and that’s where the charges you mention are defined.

Contrary to what you seem to believe, the residential delivery charge doesn’t just apply to private homes. Also covered are apartment complexes, where businesses are sometimes located, and “dormitories,” which probably isn’t relevant. The charge is also assessed for “businesses located at a private residence, farm, or ranch that are not open to the walk-in public during normal business hours.”

It’s not, in other words, the consignee that’s important here; it’s the location at which the consignee operates.

The same holds for the limited access charge. This is very specifically identified in the tariff and has little directly to do with whether delivery will “take additional time.” Once again, it’s assessed on a location-specific basis.

Several types of locations are specified in the carrier’s tariff. Based on what you’re shipping, which I won’t identify here, I think some locations aren’t relevant for you. But also included are churches, schools, prisons and military bases and installations, all of which strike me as at least possible destinations for your shipments. And there’s a further catch-all: “commercial establishments not open to walk-in public during normal business hours,” to which I expect other of your shipments are going.

None of this is to say the carrier is assessing the charges 100 percent correctly. Likely, its billing people are going on the basis of address, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they occasionally mess up.

But now that you understand proper application of the charges, you should be in a better position to respond. It may not always help; you may not be fully knowledgeable about the location of each of your consignees, given that you say you have “thousands” of shipments a week. To that end you might want to consider revising your order-taking process to include some sort of checklist describing your customers’ delivery locations.

It’s that tariff that matters, however, not the names of convenience the carrier applies to the charges.

Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455. Contact him at 843-559-1277, or at BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the 536-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2001, at $80 plus shipping.