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HMRC internal manual

VAT Books

Books: What kinds of article are eligible?: Leaflets (Item 1): Physical characteristics

  • It must be limp, i.e. not printed on stiff paper, laminated paper or card (but see VBOOKS3340 regarding function.
  • It must be designed to be held in the hand for reading by individuals.


Until 1 June 1990, card-based single sheet products were accepted as falling within the definition of leaflets, and were therefore eligible for zero-rating. However, in the Tribunal decision in Panini Publishing Ltd, the Chairman stated that a leaflet must be limp, and generally if not inevitably on unlaminated paper. This led to a policy review, under which we excluded single sheet products printed on card from the relief. The following items became specifically standard-rated:

  • 1 June 1990: menu cards, cassette inlay cards, cookery cards, and any other products printed on card or laminated paper
  • 1 September 1990: cigarette cards
  • 1 May 1991: knitting patterns.

Articles such as membership cards and fixture lists will also usually fail this test.

Orders of service, whether printed on paper or card, became zero-rated with effect from 20 December 1996. There is no definition of limpness and it is really a matter of best judgement. You should resist any attempt to set rigid guidelines - such as grammage of paper - as these would have no basis in law and would be unworkable in practice.

The main Tribunal which supports this policy is Panini Publishing Ltd (LON/88/166Y) (VTD 3876). This ruled that stickers bearing reproduction photographs were not leaflets, as they were too stiff.

Further support is given by the decision in Marylebone Cricket Club (LON/81/88) (1074), which concerned score cards sold at cricket matches. In ruling that these were not leaflets, the Chairman stated that a leaflet was a flimsy piece of paper, and a score card is not a leaflet because the paper is too stiff.

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Designed to be held in the hand for reading by individuals

There are some articles - for example, car stickers - which are small enough to be held in the hand, but are intended for display. These articles are standard-rated. Several tribunals have provided examples of articles which are not leaflets for this reason.

The main precedent case is Arbroath Herald (EDN 75/9) (VTD 182), which considered car stickers. These were too small to be posters, but, nevertheless, did not qualify as leaflets, as they were designed to be read by the public at large. The following decisions confirm this thinking.

Pace Group Communications Ltd (MAN/77/210) (VTD 510) ruled that window banners and door stickers were not leaflets.

Cronsvale Ltd [1983] (VATTR 313) ruled that advertisements for public meetings were more appropriate for public display and thus ineligible for relief.

Greyform Publications Ltd [1988] VATTR 115 (3158) ruled that a wall sheet giving information about greyhound racing was too large to qualify.

Hall of Names (LON/91/1256) (VTD 8806) considered a family history chart in scroll format. This was small enough to be held in the hand and read, but was designed for display and was therefore ruled not to be a leaflet.