Guidance

VAT relief on certain goods if you have a disability

Find out how to get VAT relief if you’re buying goods because of your disability.

If you’re disabled you’ll generally have to pay VAT on the things you buy. But VAT relief is available on a limited range of goods and services for disabled people.

VAT relief that may be available if you’re buying goods because of your disability, find out:

  • how VAT relief works
  • which goods can be bought VAT-free
  • what HMRC means by ‘disabled’ and who qualifies for VAT-free goods
  • how to prove that you qualify for VAT-free goods
  • what to do if you think you’ve paid too much VAT
  • how to contact HMRC for more information

How VAT relief works

This is not a VAT refund system and there’s no facility for HMRC to refund VAT to you if you’re entitled to buy VAT-free goods. If you’re entitled to buy VAT-free goods, your supplier will not charge you VAT.

Goods you can buy VAT-free

This section has information on the goods you can buy VAT-free because of your disability including:

  • medical and surgical appliances
  • invalid wheelchairs and mobility scooters
  • equipment to aid the hard of hearing and low vision aids
  • specialist beds, chair and stair lifts, rise and recline chairs and other lifting equipment and sanitary devices
  • goods that have been designed solely for disabled people
  • computer equipment
  • emergency alarm call systems
  • boats
  • parts and accessories

You can hire or lease eligible goods VAT-free if you’re disabled.

Your retailer or other supplier is responsible for checking whether the goods are eligible to sell VAT-free.

Medical and surgical appliances

You’ll not have to pay VAT when you buy medical or surgical appliances that are designed solely for the relief of a severe abnormality or severe injury such as amputation, rheumatoid arthritis, learning difficulties or blindness.

Appliances that can be bought VAT-free include:

  • invalid wheelchairs
  • certain types of mobility scooters
  • leg braces
  • neck collars
  • oxygen concentrators
  • specialist clothing
  • specialist footwear
  • wigs

Items that you cannot buy VAT-free include bandages, plasters or other wound dressings and dentures (unless you buy them from a dentist or other dental care professional).

Mobility scooters

You’ll not have to pay VAT if you’re buying a mobility scooter that’s designed not to exceed 4 miles per hour and is intended for use on the pavement and not on the road. This category of scooter is known as ‘class 2’.

‘Class 3’ carriages:

  • are designed to exceed 4 miles per hour and are intended for use on the road
  • cannot be bought VAT-free unless they’ve been designed solely for disabled people

Golf buggies are not eligible for VAT relief.

Equipment to aid the hard of hearing and low vision aids

You’ll not have to pay VAT if you’re buying certain specialist equipment designed for deaf or severely hard of hearing people such as tinnitus maskers, induction loops or TV hearing devices.

You can buy certain low vision aids VAT-free such as: * technical aids designed exclusively for visually impaired people to help with reading and writing * specially designed equipment for magnifying text and images

Standard hearing aids, corrective spectacles or contact lenses are not VAT-free.

Specialist adjustable beds, chair and stair lifts, rise and recline chairs and other lifting equipment and sanitary devices

You’ll not have to pay VAT if you’re buying:

  • an electrically or mechanically adjustable bed - an adjustable bed will be eligible for relief only if it clearly stands out as being specialised for the use of invalids, as well as being adjustable, a qualifying bed will have other specific design features that distinguish it from an ordinary bed
  • a stair lift or chair lift designed for use in connection with a wheelchair (the lift does not have to carry you while you’re in the wheelchair)
  • a riser-recliner chair designed to help you move from a seated position to a standing position and the other way around, recliner chairs which do not have the lifting facility cannot be bought VAT-free
  • a hoist
  • a sanitary device such as a commode chair or stool, a sanitary appliance which has a bidet jet and warm air drier or a frame to help you lower or rise from the toilet

Goods that have been designed solely for disabled people

You’ll not have to pay VAT on any goods that have been designed by the manufacturer solely for use by disabled people. Eligible goods include:

  • white canes or whistling cups for blind people
  • vibrating pillows for deaf or hard of hearing people
  • invalid wheelchairs
  • TENS machines
  • Braille embossers
  • incontinence products

What HMRC means by ‘designed solely for disabled people’

This means that the original intention of the product’s designer was to produce an appliance or equipment solely to meet the needs of people with one or more disability.

You cannot buy goods that are designed for use by disabled and non-disabled people alike VAT-free. Goods that are bought to be used by or that are mainly bought by disabled people cannot be bought without VAT unless they’re designed solely for use by disabled people. For example, general purpose equipment such as a laptop, an air conditioning device, a reclining chair or an orthopaedic bed might benefit a disabled person but cannot be bought VAT-free because they’re not designed solely for use by a disabled person.

Who decides whether something is ‘designed solely for disabled people’

Your retailer or other supplier is responsible for charging the correct amount of VAT on anything they sell. They should check with the manufacturer that the goods have been designed solely for use by disabled people before agreeing to sell any goods VAT-free.

Computer equipment

Computer equipment that’s been designed solely for use by disabled people can be bought without VAT. General use computer equipment including laptops, tablets and e-Readers cannot be bought VAT-free even if they’re sold with certain applications that may assist disabled people such as voice recognition. This is because the equipment has not been designed solely for use by disabled people.

Emergency alarm call systems

You’ll not have to pay VAT if you buy an emergency alarm call system that’s designed to be operated by a disabled person and enables you to call for help to a specified person or call centre in case of illness or injury.

Telephones, intruder alarms or CCTV systems are not VAT-free.

Boats

You’ll not have to pay VAT if you buy a boat which is designed or, before it’s sold to you or imported, has been substantially and permanently adapted for use by a disabled person. An eligible boat will include many features specifically for disabled people such as specialised washing and lavatory facilities, wheelchair clamps and specialist steering facilities. Your supplier is responsible for determining whether an eligible boat’s being supplied.

Parts and accessories

You’ll not have to pay VAT on parts or accessories that are designed solely for use in or with eligible goods (except boats). VAT relief does not apply to general use items such as batteries even if they’re being bought for use in equipment that was bought VAT-free. For example, you cannot buy a standard battery VAT-free for use in your mobility scooter but you can buy a VAT-free battery that was designed only to be used in mobility scooters.

Building materials

You’ll not have to pay VAT on building materials you buy which relate to certain building work that’s eligible for relief. For more information see VAT relief on building work if you have a disability.

Repairs, maintenance and adapting goods

You’ll not have to pay VAT on repairs or maintenance of eligible goods that were zero-rated when you bought them. Also, you’ll not have to pay VAT on the cost of having goods adapted to suit your disability (the cost of buying any goods that are to be adapted will be subject to VAT as normal).

Do you qualify for VAT-free goods

You’ll only be able to have eligible goods VAT-free if you’re chronically sick or disabled and the goods are for your personal or domestic use. You do not need to be registered disabled or eligible for any other benefit to qualify for VAT-free goods.

What HMRC means by ‘chronically sick or disabled’

For VAT purposes, you’re chronically sick or disabled if you have:

  • a physical or mental impairment which has a long term and substantial adverse effect on your ability to carry out everyday activities
  • a condition that the medical profession treats as a chronic sickness (that’s a long term health condition)

For VAT purposes, the term ‘chronically sick or disabled’ does not include a person who’s only temporarily disabled or incapacitated, for example with a broken limb or someone who’s elderly but is not chronically sick or disabled.

You do not need HMRC’s permission to declare that you’re disabled or chronically sick and our advisers cannot tell you whether or not you’re disabled or chronically sick. If you’re not sure whether your condition means you’re chronically sick or disabled you may wish to consult your doctor or other medical adviser.

What HMRC mean by ‘personal or domestic use’

This means that the goods are made available specifically for the use of an individual disabled person.

The following are not ‘personal’ or ‘domestic’ uses and are not VAT-free:

  • goods used for business purposes
  • goods supplied to or for an in-patient or out-patient of a hospital or to or for a resident of a nursing or care home where the goods are for use in the care or treatment provided in the hospital or nursing or care home

How to prove that you qualify for VAT-free goods

Eligibility declarations

To show that you’re entitled to buy the goods VAT-free, your supplier will probably ask you for a simple written declaration stating your eligibility. If the supplier does not give you a form to fill in you can use our suggested version.

You’ll need to do a separate declaration for each supplier for them to keep with their VAT records.

Do not send completed declarations to HMRC.

What to do if you think you’ve paid too much VAT

If you think that you meet all the conditions for VAT-free goods but have been incorrectly charged VAT you should ask your supplier for a refund. There’s no facility for HMRC to refund VAT to you.

If your supplier is not sure how to do this they can contact HMRC for advice. Our helpline can give advice in cases of uncertainty but cannot intervene in disputes between customers and suppliers.

How to contact HMRC for more information

Find out more about the VAT reliefs available to disabled people or contact our advisers.

Published 6 January 2015