Commercial common sense wins through
by Melanie Lord AVS Vat Strategic Support
You may think it is obvious whether something is a booklet or not but, 45 years on, we still see HMRC arguing that VAT is due on printed matter instead of this being zero rated. I sometimes find it hard to credit the arguments HMRC start and run all way to the tax tribunal. The latest one that had me jangled was Paragon Customer Communications Ltd  TC 06415.
Working for Direct Line, Paragon received individual policyholder data, printed a pack of documents including a stapled policy document and sent it all out in the post. HMRC decided this was a VATable service arguing that the information in the booklet could have been in a letter and looking at the General Framework Agreement between the parties instead of the specific document relating to this particular supply. Basing its decision on the ‘Secret Hotels’ precedent – essentially that you need to look at what actually happened – the tribunal disagreed with HMRC, confirming that commercial common sense should prevail.
It seems to me that everyone apart from HMRC would look at the arrangements in the same way as the tribunal. The framework agreement only gave structure and you need to look to the specific document for the detail of what is being supplied, which will be a concept capable of much wider application.
While the VAT treatment of printed matter has always been difficult it is a concern that HMRC tried so hard to interpret Paragon’s supply as a VATable service and not zero-rated printed goods. Sadly it does not look like deciding how to apply VAT to printing supplies is going to get any easier any time soon.