Zero rating books and printed matter (VAT Notice 701/10)

Find out when you can zero rate books and other forms of printed matter.


This notice cancels and replaces Notice 701/10 (December 2016). A new section 9 has been incorporated to provide guidance on the VAT liability of supplies of certain electronic publications (e-publications) that became zero-rated from 1 May 2020.

1. Overview

1.1 What this notice is about

Sections 1 to 8 of this notice explains the nature of, and the circumstances when, you can zero rate books and other forms of printed matter (items 1 to 5 of Group 3 of Schedule 8 to the Value Added Tax Act 1994 reproduced in paragraph 1.2).

Section 9 provides guidance on the supply of e-publications (item 7 of Group 3 of Schedule 8 to the Value Added Tax Act 1994).

1.2 The law covering this notice

The Value Added Tax Act 1994, section 30 provides for the zero rating of goods listed in Schedule 8 to the Act.

Schedule 8, Group 3 sets out books, which may be zero-rated as follows:

Group 3 - Books.

Item No.

  1. Books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets and leaflets.

  2. Newspapers, journals and periodicals.

  3. Children’s picture books and painting books.

  4. Music (printed, duplicated or manuscript).

  5. Maps, charts and topographical plans.

  6. Covers, cases and other articles supplied with items 1 to 5 and not separately accounted for.

  7. The publications listed in Items 1 to 3 when supplied electronically, but excluding publications which:

(a) are wholly or predominantly devoted to advertising, or (b) consist wholly or predominantly of audio or video content


(1) Items 1 to 7:

(a) do not include plans or drawings for industrial, architectural, engineering, commercial or similar purposes

(1A) Items 1 to 6 include the supply of the services described in paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 4 in respect of goods comprised in the items.

2. The format of the Group 3 items

The words in Group 3 are used in their ordinary, everyday sense. This means they are restricted to goods produced on paper and similar materials such as card (but see paragraph 3.7). Most items qualifying for the zero rating will be products of the printing industry (including items printed in Braille), but goods which are photocopied, typed or hand-written will, in some cases, also qualify.

Goods containing text in other formats such as audio or video cassettes or CD Rom are standard-rated. This includes the storage and distribution of text by fax, e-mail, microfiche, or any similar process. Transcripts or print-outs made of such information are zero-rated if they are supplied in the form of books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets or leaflets as defined in section 3.

The supply of certain e-publications falling within item 7 of Group 3 is zero-rated from 1 May 2020 and further guidance can be found in section 9.

3. Meaning of the Group 3 items

The meaning of the individual items is explained in detail here. Whether a particular item falls within those meanings depends mainly on its physical characteristics and function but also, to a lesser extent, on its content. However, some of the physical characteristics that apply to printed matter will not apply to e-publications.

3.1 Books and booklets

These normally consist of text or illustrations, bound in a cover stiffer than their pages. They may be printed in any language or characters (including Braille or shorthand), photocopied, typed or hand-written, so long as they are found in book or booklet form.

Supplies of any of the following are zero-rated:

  • literary works
  • reference books
  • directories and catalogues
  • antique books
  • collections of letters or documents permanently bound in covers
  • loose-leaf books, manuals or instructions, whether complete with their binder or not
  • amendments to zero-rated loose-leaf books, even if issued separately

School work books and other educational texts in question and answer format, are zero-rated because the spaces provided for the insertion of answers are incidental to the essential character of the book or booklet. The same applies to exam papers in question and answer format provided they qualify as books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets or leaflets.

But supplies of the following are standard-rated:

  • books of plans or drawings for industrial, architectural, engineering, commercial or similar purposes
  • picture card and stamp albums, unless they contain a substantial amount of reading matter which is complete in itself, and no more than 25% of the album is set aside for the mounting of cards and stamps
  • completed stamp albums
  • products that are essentially stationery items, for example, diaries and address books

3.2 Brochures and pamphlets

These are not defined in law and whether a particular product qualifies as a brochure or pamphlet is a matter of fact and impression.

Brochures usually consist of several sheets of reading matter fastened or folded together, which are not necessarily bound in covers. They usually contain advertising material in the form of text or illustrations.

Pamphlets are similar, but are usually comprised of material of a political, social or intellectual nature.

Single sheet brochures and ‘wallet’ type brochures designed with a flap may be zero-rated provided they:

  • convey information
  • contain a substantial amount of text, with some indication of contents or of the issuing organisation
  • are not primarily designed to hold other items
  • are supplied complete

3.3 Leaflets

These are also not defined in law and again whether a particular product qualifies as a leaflet is a matter of fact and impression. Leaflets normally:

  • consist of a single sheet of paper not greater than international standard A4 in size (larger publications up to A2 size can be zero-rated provided that they are printed on both sides, folded down to A4 size or smaller and meet the other conditions)
  • are intended to be held in the hand for reading by individuals (rather than for hanging up for general display)
  • convey information
  • are complete (and not a part work)
  • are supplied in sufficient quantity (at least 50 copies) to permit general distribution
  • are printed on limp paper
  • will either be of an ephemeral nature (designed to be read a few times and then thrown away) or be designed to accompany some other product or service, for example an instruction leaflet

Items printed on stiff paper and card are not automatically excluded from the definition of leaflets. But we do regard the use of stiff paper and card as an indicator that the items have a function which would exclude them.

For example if the item’s main function were designed to be kept or used for a specific purpose in its own right, rather than as ancillary to another supply, it would not be a leaflet. Examples of items that would not be leaflets would be those designed to be used for any of the following:

  • as a calendar
  • to obtain admission to premises
  • to obtain a discount on goods or services
  • as reference material
  • for completion or return (see paragraph 3.4)

We consider that items printed on laminated paper are designed to be kept and therefore not leaflets. But orders of service are not normally designed to be kept and may be zero-rated.

3.4 Items with areas for completion

Items which might otherwise be considered to be leaflets, brochures and pamphlets may not be zero-rated if they are primarily intended for completion or detachment. This distinguishes brochures, pamphlets and leaflets from standard-rated forms.

We accept that items are not primarily intended for completion or detachment if 25% or less of their total area consists of:

  • areas which are blank and available for completion
  • parts to be detached and returned

Where there is both an area for completion and a part to be detached and returned, then the two together must not exceed 25% of the total area of the publication.

Whatever the area for completion, a publication which is designed to be returned whole after completion is always standard-rated.

3.5 Newspapers

Newspapers are issued at least once a week in a continuous series under the same title. Each issue is usually dated or serially numbered. They usually consist of several large sheets folded rather than bound together, and contain information about current events of local, national or international interest.

Publications which do not contain a substantial amount of news are not newspapers.

Many newspapers also carry items such as readers’ letters, sports news, the weather forecast, crosswords and features (including feature supplements) on fashion, gardening, or more specialised topics.

3.6 Journals and periodicals

These are magazines issued in a series at regular intervals, more frequently than once a year, either in newspaper format or as paper-bound publications. They may contain information of a specialised nature (for example legal, medical, financial, commercial, fashion or sporting) or be of more general interest. They are normally a mixture of articles and stories with the content changed for each edition. Although they consist essentially of reading matter, they may also consist mainly of illustrations or advertising matter.

‘Poster-magazines’, which have some textual material on one side and a related picture capable of being used as a poster on the other side and which are folded into a magazine format are zero-rated as periodicals, provided they are issued at regular intervals.

Publications whose main purpose is to promote your own products or services are not journals or periodicals, even if they are published regularly. If you supply such publications, you can still zero rate them if they fall within one of the zero-rated categories, such as brochures.

3.7 Children’s picture books

These are zero-rated, whether they are printed on paper, plastic or textiles, such as children’s rag books, unless the article is essentially a toy. Examples of articles which are standard-rated as toys include:

  • books consisting wholly or mainly of pictures of models for cutting out, but books with printed text directly related to the material for cutting out covering at least 25% of the pages can be zero-rated (pages of assembly instructions should not be included as printed text for the purpose of determining eligibility for zero rating)
  • items where the pages are boards for games

3.8 Children’s painting and dot-to-dot books

Supplies of the following are zero-rated:

  • children’s painting and drawing books with sample pictures for copying, or outlines of pictures for colouring, painting or drawing
  • similar books with ‘invisible’ outlines to colour which can be made visible by rubbing with a pencil or applying water with a paint brush
  • painting books in which the small amounts of water colour required for colouring are contained in the book (for example, in the form of a palette)
  • activity books which combine pages of colouring with pages of puzzles, quizzes and the like

Children’s picture and painting books (which includes children’s colouring books) are zero-rated. HMRC guidance VBOOKS3600 provides information on the zero rating applicable to ‘children’s picture books and painting books’.

There is now a wide range of children’s colouring and dot-to-dot books on the market that are suitable for children.

Child’s colouring or dot-to-dot book

These are colouring and dot-to-dot books that are suitable for children under the age of 18 years and are eligible for the zero rate. These types of books vary in content and some may contain not only pictures for colouring or to be determined by joining the dots, but may also include some text.

Colouring or dot-to-dot books are zero-rated only if they:

  • don’t include content that is only suitable for adults (people aged 18 or over)
  • aren’t advertised or held out for sale as an adult product

Content is only suitable for adults

Some colouring and dot-to-dot books on the market, regardless of how they are advertised or held out for sale, are not considered as suitable for children under the age of 18 and are therefore standard rated for VAT purposes. These publications have one of the 4 following themes:

1. Profanity

Publications that contain profane or ‘swear’ words that appear in the title of the books, in the text or images within the book itself. But, this does not include incidental use of profane language when it is used in the context of an extract from a classical piece of literature, for example a Shakespeare play.

2. Pornography and gratuitous nudity

Publications that contain scenes of pornography or gratuitous nudity. But this does not include scientific anatomical drawings and images reflected in classical works of art. This includes any image of a sexual nature that would not generally be regarded as suitable for children under 18 years of age.

3. Violence

Publications that contain scenes of violence. This does not include images of scenes of battles and fighting that are clearly identified as based on historic events, religious stories or dramatic works.

4. Illegal acts

Publications that depict illegal acts. This would include images that depict theft, assault, drug taking, robbery. This list is not exhaustive. This does not include images that are clearly identified as based on historic events, religious stories or dramatic works.

How the colouring and dot-to-dot books should be advertised or held out for sale

While the colouring and dot-to dot books do not need to specifically state they are for sale to children to benefit from the zero rate, they must not state that they are suitable or specifically aimed at adults or grown-ups (or any similar phrase).

In addition, publications held out for sale to children should not be sold together with adult titles. This is designed to ensure children do not mistakenly access books dealing with adult themes. This can be achieved in a retail setting by keeping adult titles clearly segregated from children’s titles using clear signs, or keeping them in a different section (like a top shelf away from children’s titles). For online sellers, they will need to clearly note in their selling details whether a book is suitable for children in such a way that parents can determine suitability at a glance rather than having to read tracts of narrative.

3.9 Music

Printed, duplicated or manuscript music of all kinds is zero-rated. It may be:

  • instrumental or vocal
  • printed or hand-written
  • bound or on loose sheets
  • illustrated or not
  • in any system of notation, including numerical symbols or Braille

Music rolls and blank music manuscript are standard-rated.

A piece of music commissioned from a composer is standard-rated (see paragraph 7.2).

3.10 Maps, charts and topographical plans

Supplies of all printed maps and charts designed to represent the natural or artificial features of countries, towns, seas, the heavens are zero-rated. They can be printed on paper or other material (such as cloth) and in the form of single or folded sheets or a collection of such sheets bound together in book form (for example, an atlas).

But supplies of any of these are standard-rated:

  • plans or drawings for industrial, architectural, engineering, commercial or similar purposes, in any format
  • framed maps whose primary purpose is decorative
  • posters
  • pictorial wall charts
  • aerial photographs
  • globes, three dimensional models and similar articles
  • decorative maps printed or woven into textile articles such as scarves, handkerchiefs, tea-towels, tapestries, rugs

4. Items not included within any of the Group 3 items

4.1 Posters

Sheets intended for public display are standard-rated. For ‘Poster-magazines’, see paragraph 3.6.

4.2 Stationery

Stationery items such as account books and exercise books are standard-rated. Some items which are standard-rated stationery when new and unused can be zero-rated if sold after they have been completed, provided that they then have the physical characteristics of a book or other zero-rated item. Examples are completed diaries or ships’ logs, but not completed stamp albums.

4.3 Letters

Individual manuscript or typed letters are standard-rated, as are collections of such letters if they are unbound or loosely bound. Permanently bound collections of letters are zero-rated.

If a ‘stock’ or basic letter is supplied with an individual name or address of the recipient added (by whatever means) that supply is standard-rated. Uncompleted ‘stock’ or basic letters may qualify as leaflets see paragraph 3.3, if the portion for completion consists of no more than the recipient’s name and address, a reference number and a signature.

4.4 Incomplete publications

Parts of books, unbound pages and separate illustrations are standard-rated.

By concession, the following are zero-rated:

  • part work publications designed to build up into a zero-rated book, once a complete book has been supplied, amendments to it may also be zero-rated
  • card based continuity series publications, even though not bound, but stored in their container will for, VAT purposes, be treated as a book

See Notice 48 Extra-Statutory Concessions.

4.5 Photocopies

Photocopies of zero-rated items are always standard-rated unless the copies can be properly described as books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets, leaflets, and meet all the criteria for such items in the relevant preceding paragraphs. A bundle of photocopies would not constitute a book unless it included copies of all the pages of a book and was in a permanent binding. Photocopies of parts of books, extracts from periodicals cannot be zero-rated unless they are complete in themselves and have the characteristics of zero-rated items.

If you provide ‘instant’ photocopying or duplicating services and you cannot determine the VAT liability of the copies which you supply, you should charge and account for VAT at the standard rate.

4.6 Supplies to charities

Certain printed items that are not within the Group 3 zero rating and are therefore usually standard-rated, may be zero-rated when supplied to charities for use in connection with collecting monetary donations. For details see VAT when you supply services or goods to charities (Notice 701/58).

5.1 Incidental articles supplied with zero-rated items

Minor accessories, for example dust covers, clasps, book marks, slip cases and presentation cases, supplied with any zero-rated items, are usually regarded as forming part of the zero-rated item (but see section 6).

5.2 Binders and folders

Ring-binders and similar binders supplied on their own are zero-rated if they are designed to contain a loose-leaf book, provided the exact title of that book is printed on the outside. A company name alone is not enough for zero rating. A binder supplied with loose-leaf pages to make a book is treated as part of the zero-rated supply whether titled or not. All other binders or files for general or office use are standard-rated. This includes binders for part works, journals or periodicals (whether specifically titled or not).

Most folders and wallets are standard-rated but if they convey information themselves they may qualify as brochures (see paragraph 3.2).

5.3 Loans, hire and shares

If you lend or hire out an article which is zero-rated under the rules explained in this notice, or sell a share or part interest in such an article, your supply is always zero-rated.

Libraries which charge for the loan of books will therefore be making zero-rated supplies. This will also apply to reference libraries which charge for the use of their books on their own premises.

Libraries which charge for use of a number of different facilities must consider section 6.

This is the effect of note (1A) to Group 3 of Schedule 8 and paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 4 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994.

5.4 Book tokens

If you… then…
print book tokens for someone your supply is standard-rated
sell a book token to the general public for its face value or less no VAT is due
sell a book token to the general public for more than its face value you must account for VAT on the difference between your selling price and its face value
make a separate charge for a greetings card that charge is standard-rated

Further guidance is in Business promotions and VAT (Notice 700/7).

5.5 Small order surcharges

If you impose a surcharge for handling a small order, which increases the unit price of the goods, it is part of the price of the goods and is zero-rated if the goods are zero-rated.

5.6 Postage packing and delivery charges

Guidance is given in VAT on postage, delivery and direct marketing (Notice 700/24).

5.7 Subsidy or vanity publishing

Subsidy or vanity publishing occurs when an author who is unable to have work published pays a publisher to do so. If the publisher produces books which are all delivered to the author, the payment by the author is a consideration for a supply of books and is zero-rated.

If the bulk of the books remain with the publisher, payment by the author is partly for the supply of books (zero-rated) and partly for publishing services (standard-rated).

Agreement has been reached with the British Printing Industries Federation in calculating the value of such supplies which can be seen in Notice 700/57 VAT: Administrative agreements entered into with trade bodies.

6. Single and multiple supplies

6.1 Transactions with more than one element

When you supply the same person at the same time with a number of different goods or services or both, a transaction with more than one element occurs. You may, or may not, charge a single inclusive price for the transaction.

If the individual elements are all liable to VAT at the same rate, you can calculate the tax that is due in the normal way. If the individual elements are not liable to VAT at the same rate, you have to decide whether you are making a single supply or a multiple supply.

There are exceptions to the normal rule:

  • for packages consisting entirely of items printed on paper or card see paragraphs 6.5 and 6.6
  • for certain cover mounted items on magazines see paragraph 6.7

6.2 Distinguishing between single and multiple supplies

When you supply books or magazines packaged with another item, you must determine whether they constitute single or multiple supplies, in line with the principles established in the European Court of Justice judgment in Card Protection Plan (CPP) and subsequent decisions.

You make a single supply when one element of the supply is the principal element to which all the other elements are ancillary, integral or incidental. An ancillary element does not constitute, for the customer, an aim in itself, but is a means of better enjoying the principal service (or goods) supplied. Integral elements are elements that are essential, necessary or incidental to the main supply. An incidental element is something that naturally accompanies the main supply, such as packaging.

General indicators of a single supply, (although they are not conclusive), are:

  • single price
  • advertised as a package
  • components not available separately
  • goods physically packaged together
  • customer perceives that what they are getting is a single supply (for example, a tailor made suit not cloth and tailoring services)

You make a multiple supply if one or more element is distinct and independent. The following points may indicate that more than one supply is taking place:

  • separate pricing or invoicing
  • items available separately
  • time differential between parts of the supply
  • elements of the supply are not inter-dependent or connected

6.3 The three possible liability outcomes

There are three possible liability outcomes if zero-rated printed matter is supplied with other items:

  • the standard-rated item may be ancillary to, or an integral part of, the supply of zero-rated printed matter, the resulting supply is a single, zero-rated supply (but covers, cases and similar articles not separately accounted for are already zero-rated under Item 6 of Group 3, Schedule 8 of the VAT Act 1994)
  • the zero-rated printed matter may be ancillary to, or an integral part of, the supply of the standard-rated item (for example, an instruction booklet provided with a new washing machine, the resulting supply is a single, standard-rated supply)
  • there may be a multiple supply, where two or more items are distinct and independent, if the items are sold for a single price and are liable to different rates of VAT you must make an apportionment, (see the VAT guide (Notice 700))

6.4 Common examples and problem areas

Sometimes it is easy to identify a multiple supply, as items supplied together can be used independently of each other. Common examples are books issued with films or tapes and children’s colouring books issued with felt-tip pens. It is quite possible to use the film or tape independently of the book and, indeed, they need separate equipment to use them. Similarly, a child can use a felt-tip pen on any paper of their choice, it is sold with a colouring book as a marketing device.

One particular area that causes problems is children’s activity packs. These may contain zero-rated books or booklets and standard-rated items such as jigsaw puzzles or toys. You need to decide whether the omission of any one component part would diminish the pack as a whole. It is not possible to give overall guidelines on these activity packs as each one is different, and must be judged on its own merits.

If you deliver items of printed matter to recipients on behalf of your customer, or provide other services in addition to the supply of printed matter, you should read chapter 3 of VAT on postage, delivery and direct marketing (Notice 700/24).

6.5 Packages consisting entirely of items printed on paper or card (‘the package test’)

Where you make a multiple supply of a package consisting entirely of items printed on paper or card, you have a choice. You can account for VAT by apportionment between the standard-rated and zero-rated elements or you can apply the package test.

For this purpose, a package is a collection of items printed on paper or card usually enclosed in some sort of wrapper. The articles must physically form a package and have a common link in that they are intended to be used together, examples are:

  • packages contained in an outer polythene or paper envelope, for example, a package sent to a shareholder which includes company reports, circulars, a proxy voting form and a reply-paid envelope
  • cardboard folders with pockets into which are inserted a variety of forms, leaflets
  • advertising packages often from financial institutions

The package test may reduce your tax burden and be simpler than the apportionment described above. It operates as follows:

  • if the package contains more zero-rated than standard-rated items, the package as a whole can be zero-rated
  • if there are more standard-rated items, the package as a whole is standard-rated
  • where there are equal numbers of zero-rated and standard-rated items, the liability of the package is decided by the costs of the goods, if the zero-rated elements of the package cost more, the whole package is zero-rated and the other way around

In the event that the standard and zero-rated elements cost exactly the same amount, apportionment should be applied.


(a) The outer envelope in which the package items are enclosed is not taken into account in the count, but a reply-paid envelope counts as a standard-rated item.

(b) If any item in the package is not printed on paper or card the package test cannot be applied.

6.6 The package test for charities

If you supply a package to a charity you can treat some items connected with collecting monetary donations as zero-rated for the purposes of the package test. The items must meet the criteria set out in VAT when you supply services or goods to charities (Notice 701/58).

Item… Treatment for the package test…
letter appealing for donations zero-rated
printed envelopes for use with appeal letters zero-rated
money collecting envelopes zero-rated
stickers standard-rated for the package test
money collecting boxes made of card zero-rated
any item not made of paper or card package test cannot be used

6.7 Promotional items in magazines

If you link a cover-mounted item such as a sachet of perfume or a CD to a magazine, you can treat it as zero-rated if all the following conditions are met:

  • you do not make a separate charge for it
  • issues with cover mounted items are sold at the same price as those that do not
  • the cost to you of the cover mounted item or items included in any individual issue does not exceed 20% of the total cost to you of the combined supply (excluding VAT), and - £1 (excluding VAT)

This linking of goods is normally done by the publisher, but can take place at any point in the distribution chain (for example, distributor, retailer).

If at the point of linkage the supply satisfies the terms of this concession, it becomes a single zero-rated supply and will continue to be a single supply throughout the chain.

If the supply does not satisfy the terms of the concession, you will have to consider whether the supply is a single or multiple supply under the normal rules explained above.

6.8 Where to find further information about this

Further information about single and multiple supply can be found in HMRC’s internal guidance available at VATSC80000.

7. Production of zero-rated goods

7.1 Nature of the service

Some contracts to supply services involve, to a greater or lesser extent, the production of goods zero-rated under Group 3. If you supply such services, you should first consider whether the supply is either:

(a) of an original or specialist nature

(b) the production of goods (which will be more likely if you work in the printing industry)

If your services are of an original or specialist nature (see paragraph 7.2), then they are always standard-rated, as any goods produced are incidental to your services.

If your service is of the production of goods, then it will be zero-rated where your service has produced new goods and those goods are themselves zero-rated (see paragraph 7.3) .

7.2 When to supply services of an original or specialist nature

Services are standard-rated when you supply a service such as:

  • original writing or composition
  • those involving a specialism such as translation, typing, shorthand transcription or transcription of musical scores

When you also supply goods with those services as incidental products then you must standard-rate those goods even if they are zero-rated under Group 3. Here are some examples:

  • a manuscript of a book supplied by an author
  • a piece of music commissioned from a composer
  • a report commissioned from a consultant, analyst or adviser
  • a translation
  • a shorthand transcription
  • a typed manuscript
  • a musical score

But, you may zero rate any extra copies of such items provided they’re:

  • in a format which qualifies for zero rating
  • supplied at a price which covers only the cost of producing the extra copies and a reasonable mark-up

7.3 When your service is that of the production of new zero-rated goods

New goods are produced when the essential characteristics of the goods are altered. Note in particular in the following situations.

7.3.1 Preparatory or post-production work

Where you have a contract to supply items that qualify for zero rating, you may zero rate any preparatory or post-production work (other than alterations) that you perform in conjunction with it. This applies whether or not you itemise the various processes on your tax invoice and charge for them separately, and even if you have employed sub-contractors.

7.3.2 Sub-contract work

As a sub-contractor you can only zero rate work if you produce new zero-rated goods. If you do not produce zero-rated goods yourself, you cannot zero rate your supply even if you know that the final product will be zero-rated. Therefore, if you provide typesetting only, your charge must be standard-rated. But if you bind pages together to make a book (with cover) you are producing a zero-rated item and your supply can be zero-rated.

There will be occasions when a sub-contractor will need to charge VAT for a contribution to the production process, although the main printer may zero rate the supply to the final customer.

7.3.3 Work on other people’s goods

If you apply a treatment or process to someone else’s goods which produces new goods, the liability of your service follows that of the goods produced. If these new goods would qualify for zero rating, then you have provided a zero-rated service. Any other service you provide is standard-rated including post-production alterations.

For example, if you bind loose papers into a book, your service is zero-rated but if you re-cover or otherwise repair an old volume your services are standard-rated.

8. Liability of some common items of printed matter

In the list below we give our views of the liability of items which are commonly the subject of queries about the zero rating for books.

But you should not assume that an article is zero-rated under Group 3 just because it is not shown as standard-rated in the list, or determine liability by referring only to this list. You must satisfy yourself by reference to the general body of guidance in this notice that the product qualifies for zero rating under one of the items of Group 3 (reproduced at paragraph 1.3).

Item Liability
Acceptance cards Standard-rated
Account Books Standard-rated
Accounts (fully printed) Zero-rated
Address books Standard-rated
Advertising leaflets Zero-rated
Agendas (fully printed) Zero-rated
Albums Standard-rated
Almanacs Zero-rated
Amendment slips Standard-rated
Amendments (loose-leaf) Zero-rated
Announcement cards Standard-rated
Annuals Zero-rated
Antique books Zero-rated
Antique maps Zero-rated
Appointment cards Standard-rated
Articles of association (complete in booklet form) Zero-rated
Astronomical charts Zero-rated
Atlases Zero-rated
Autograph albums (uncompleted) Standard-rated
Autograph books (completed) Zero-rated
Badges Standard-rated
Bags, paper Standard-rated
Ballot papers Standard-rated
Bankers’ drafts Standard-rated
Bibliographies Zero-rated
Billheads Standard-rated
Bills of lading Standard-rated
Bills of quantity (blank) Standard-rated
Bills of quantity (completed) Zero-rated
Binders Standard-rated (but see paragraph 5.2)
Bingo cards Standard-rated
Biorhythm charts Standard-rated
Blotters Standard-rated
Book covers Standard-rated
Book marks Standard-rated
Book tokens Standard-rated
Booklets Zero-rated
Bookmakers’ tickets Standard-rated
Books Zero-rated
Brochures Zero-rated
Bulletins Zero-rated
Business cards Standard-rated
Calendars Standard-rated
Catalogues Zero-rated
Certificates Standard-rated
Charts (geographical or topographical) Zero-rated
Cheques and cheque books Standard-rated
Cigarette cards Standard-rated
Circulars Zero-rated
Cloakroom tickets Standard-rated
Colour cards Standard-rated
Colouring books (children’s) Zero-rated
Comics Zero-rated
Company accounts and reports Zero-rated
Compliment slips Standard-rated
Copy books Standard-rated
Correspondence cards Standard-rated
Coupon books Standard-rated
Coupons Standard-rated
Credit cards Standard-rated
Crossword books Zero-rated
Delivery notes Standard-rated
Diaries (completed) Zero-rated
Diaries (unused) Standard-rated
Dictionaries Zero-rated
Directories (completed) Zero-rated
Dividend warrants Standard-rated
Dressmaking patterns Standard-rated
Election addresses Zero-rated
Encyclopaedias Zero-rated
Engineers’ plans Standard-rated
Envelopes Standard-rated
Exercise books Standard-rated
Fashion drawings Standard-rated
Flash cards Standard-rated
Folders Standard-rated
Football pool coupons Standard-rated
Football programmes Zero-rated
Form letters Standard-rated (but see paragraph 4.3)
Forms Standard-rated
Framed decorative maps Standard-rated
Games Standard-rated
Geological maps Zero-rated
Globes Standard-rated
Graph paper Standard-rated
Greetings cards Standard-rated
Handbills Zero-rated
Holiday and tourist guides Zero-rated
Hydrographical charts Zero-rated
Hymn books Zero-rated
Index cards Standard-rated
Inlay cards for cassette, CD or video Standard-rated
Instruction manuals Zero-rated
Insurance cover notes Standard-rated
Invitation cards Standard-rated
Invoices Standard-rated
Journals Zero-rated
Labels Standard-rated
Leaflets Zero-rated
Letter headings Standard-rated
Letters (handwritten) Standard-rated
Log books (blank) Standard-rated
Loose leaf books Zero-rated
Lottery tickets and cards Standard-rated
Magazines Zero-rated
Mail order catalogues Zero-rated
Manuals Zero-rated
Manuscript paper Standard-rated
Manuscripts Standard-rated
Maps Zero-rated
Medical records Standard-rated
Membership cards Standard-rated
Memo pads Standard-rated
Memoranda of association (completed in booklet form) Zero-rated
Memorial cards Standard-rated
Menu cards Standard-rated
Microfiche Standard-rated
Microfilm Standard-rated
Microform copies Standard-rated
Missals Zero-rated
Monographs Zero-rated
Music Zero-rated
Music rolls Standard-rated
Music scores Zero-rated
Newspapers Zero-rated
Note books, pads and paper Standard-rated
Order books and forms Standard-rated
Orders of Service Zero-rated
Painting books (children’s) Zero-rated
Pamphlets Zero-rated
Paper, unprinted Standard-rated
Parts of books (see paragraph 4.4) Standard-rated
Pattern cards Standard-rated
Periodicals Zero-rated
Photograph albums Standard-rated
Photographs Standard-rated
Picture books Zero-rated
Plans Standard-rated (but see paragraph 3.10)
Playing cards Standard-rated
Poll cards Standard-rated
Pools coupons Standard-rated
Postcards (whether completed or not) Standard-rated
Poster magazines (see paragraph 3.6) Zero-rated
Posters Standard-rated
Prayer books Zero-rated
Price cards and tags Standard-rated
Price lists (fully printed leaflets or brochures) Zero-rated
Printed pictures Standard-rated
Programmes Zero-rated
Questionnaires Standard-rated
Rag books (children’s) Zero-rated
Receipt books and forms Standard-rated
Recipe books Zero-rated
Record books Standard-rated
Record labels Standard-rated
Record sleeves Standard-rated
Registers Standard-rated
Rent books Standard-rated
Reply-paid coupons and envelopes Standard-rated
Reproductions of paintings Standard-rated
Road maps Zero-rated
Score cards Standard-rated
Scrap books (blank) Standard-rated
Scrap books (completed) Zero-rated
Scrolls (hand-written) Standard-rated
Seals Standard-rated
Shade cards (unless they contain substantial printed text) Standard-rated
Share certificates Standard-rated
Ships’ logs (completed) Zero-rated
Sports programmes Zero-rated
Staff journals Zero-rated
Stamp albums (whether completed or not) Standard-rated
Stationery Standard-rated
Stationery books Standard-rated
Stickers Standard-rated
Swatch books Standard-rated
Swatch cards Standard-rated
Sweepstake tickets Standard-rated
Tags Standard-rated
Temperature charts Standard-rated
Text books Zero-rated
Theses Zero-rated
Tickets Standard-rated
Time cards and sheets Standard-rated
Timetables (in book or leaflet form) Zero-rated
Tokens Standard-rated (but see paragraph 5.4)
Topographical plans Zero-rated
Toys Standard-rated
Tracts Zero-rated
Trade catalogues Zero-rated
Trade directories Zero-rated
Transcripts Standard-rated
Transfers Standard-rated
Transparencies Standard-rated
Travel brochures Zero-rated
Visiting cards Standard-rated
Vouchers Standard-rated
Wall charts Standard-rated
Waste paper Standard-rated
Wills Standard-rated
Winding cards Standard-rated
Wrapping paper Standard-rated
Wreath cards Standard-rated

9. E-publications

With effect from 1 May 2020, the publications falling in items 1 to 3 of Group 3 (see section 1.2) when supplied electronically are zero-rated unless they are wholly or predominantly devoted to advertising, audio or video content. The following section provides guidance on the supplies of e-publications with more detailed guidance available in VBOOKS8490.

9.1 Determining whether an e-publication is one of the publications listed above

The terms e-books, e-newspapers, e-magazines, e-journals etc. are not defined in legislation and so they take their ordinary and everyday meaning. To determine whether an e-publication falls within the zero rate it is necessary to consider its characteristics and purpose. Guidance can be found in section 3 – although some of the physical characteristics that apply to printed matter will not apply to e-publications.

In many cases, it will be clear whether or not the supply of an e-publication qualifies for the zero rate by considering its characteristics and purpose without carrying out a detailed assessment. For example, an e-publication that is subject to editorial control, focused on delivering news and providing analysis and commentary on news stories is likely to be a zero-rated newspaper. This would apply to online newspapers that are updated periodically and is not limited to static digital versions of printed newspapers.

However, where an e-publication has no clear purpose, it will be necessary to consider the characteristics and purposes of the publication in more detail and to make an assessment based on the facts in each case.

9.2 The meaning of “wholly or predominantly devoted to advertising, audio or video content”

The meaning of the word “wholly” is self-evident. The word “predominantly” in this context means more than half. Therefore, if more than half of an e-publication is devoted to advertising, audio and/or video content, its supply will be standard rated for VAT purposes.

9.3 Determining whether an e-publication is “predominantly” devoted to advertising, audio or video content

Determining whether an e-publication is predominantly devoted to advertising, audio or video content in many cases will be resolved by considering the purpose of the product. However, where a product has no clear purpose, businesses will need to consider all the facts and circumstances and objectively assess the relative mix of content.

In some cases, it may be appropriate to measure different types of content by performing a numerical calculation. For instance, comparing the number of news articles with the number of advertisements and video clips or by carrying out a word count or by looking at the amount of space taken up.

As there is no determinative test to establish whether an e-publication is predominantly devoted to advertising, audio and/or video content, HMRC will accept a fair and reasonable assessment based on a sensible method.

9.4 E-publications that do not exist in printed form

The supply of an e-publication that does not exist in printed form will qualify for the zero rate provided it is one of the publications in section 9.1.

9.5 E-audiobooks

The extension to the zero rate applies only to books that were already zero-rated under UK law, when they are supplied electronically. As such, zero rating is limited to electronic equivalents of books that can be read or looked at. This includes books that are supplied electronically but which are not sold in printed form. Supplies of audiobooks remain taxable at the standard rate whether supplied in a physical or digital format.

9.6 VAT liability of an e-publication that is for completing as opposed to being read

The supply of an e-publication that is predominantly for completing (for example, an electronic diary) is standard rated, unless it is an electronic version of a printed book whose supply is already included within the zero rate or an electronically supplied children’s picture or painting book which is specifically zero-rated by UK legislation.

9.7 Types of payments for accessing e-publications

There are different payment models for accessing e-publications – for example, pay per day, pay per publication and traditional subscription models. Provided that the supply of the e-publication qualifies for the zero rate, the form of payment (or consideration) may be in any form.

9.8 Subscriptions to access multiple e-publications

Where a business charges a fee to its customers to access a number of zero-rated e-publications, the supply will be zero-rated. Where a charge is made to access a mixture of standard and zero-rated e-publications, it will be necessary to apportion the fee between the standard and zero-rated elements on a fair and reasonable basis – refer to Notice 700 section 31

9.9 VAT liability of the sale of e-book readers

E-book readers are one form of hardware to which e-books can be downloaded before being read but are not in themselves e-books. Therefore, supplies of e-book readers are standard rated (unless they meet certain conditions and are sold as part of an assistive technology system – read VAT Notice 701/7 for further information).

9.10 VAT liability of the sale of software for accessing e-publications

Software (for example, an “app”) is used to access e-publications but is not in itself an e-publication. Therefore, supplies of such software are standard rated.

9.11 Lending of zero-rated e-publications

The lending of any zero-rated e-publications for a charge (for example, by a library) is zero-rated.

9.12 Supply of intellectual property in e-publications

Supplies of intellectual property, even if they are supplied electronically, are not supplies of e-publications and are always standard rated. Electronically supplied plans or drawings for industrial, architectural, engineering, commercial or similar purposes are specifically excluded in the legislation.

9.13 Supplies of standalone digital music manuscripts, maps and charts

The objective of the change to zero rate certain e-publications is to support literacy and reading in all of its forms, allowing e-books, e-newspapers, e-magazines and academic e-journals to be entitled to the same VAT treatment as their physical counterparts. The scope of the measure does therefore allow for the zero rating of supplies of music manuscripts, maps and charts when they are in the form of one of the publications listed in section 9.1. However, this does not cover standalone items described in items 4 and 5 of Group 3 of Schedule 8 VATA such as digital music manuscripts, maps or charts.

9.14 Treatment of supplies of e-publications that span 1 May 2020

The zero rate for e-publications applies to supplies made on or after 1 May 2020. In cases where there has been a payment for qualifying e-publications prior to 1 May and the supply is received on or after 1 May, businesses can opt to account for VAT at the date on which the supply of the service takes place instead of the date when the payment is received – and so apply the zero rate. However, where a business has issued a VAT invoice showing VAT at 20%, it will need to issue a credit note for the over-charged VAT. If the business has not issued a VAT invoice, it can simply refund the 20% VAT.

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Published 13 December 2016
Last updated 31 July 2020 + show all updates
  1. A new section 9 has been incorporated to provide guidance on the VAT liability of supplies of certain electronic publications (e-publications) that became zero-rated from 1 May 2020.

  2. First published.