VAT on children's clothes - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 27 August 2013 | Standard notes SN01123

Amended 28 August 2013

Authors: Antony Seely

Topic: Taxation

Clothing and footwear for young children are charged a zero rate of VAT. Articles must be both designed for young children, and suitable only for young children. In meeting these criteria, articles cannot exceed certain maximum sizes which accord with an average 13 year old child. This note gives a short summary of the law, before looking at certain criticisms have been made of the zero rate, and the case that has been made for extending it to all school uniforms. Detailed guidance on the scope of the zero rate is published by HM Revenue & Customs.

There have been concerns that the UK might be required to abolish the zero rate on children’s clothes to comply with EU-wide agreements on VAT rates. Member States first agreed provisions to set parameters for VAT rates across the EU in 1991; this permitted the UK to maintain its existing zero rates, although it precluded any State introducing new zero rates. Proposals for further harmonising VAT rates were made by the European Commission in 2003, and if adopted would have meant the end of this zero rate. However, they were strongly opposed by many countries including the UK; as a consequence the changes that have made to these rules since then have been relatively minor in scope, and have allowed for the UK to continue to apply all its existing zero rates. The last section of this note gives a short summary of these events; the issue is addressed in detail in a second Library note (SN2683, 9 October 2012).

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