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HMRC internal manual

VAT Books

HM Revenue & Customs
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Books: What kinds of article are eligible?: Leaflets (Item 1): Other indicating factors


A leaflet should normally be a single small sheet of paper, not greater than standard A4 size - although larger publications up to A2 size can be zero-rated provided that they are printed on both sides and folded down to A4 size or smaller.

A leaflet should be complete in itself

Leaflets are not usually part of larger works - You should be able to read and use them on their own.

In Odhams Leisure Group Ltd, the Tribunal considered story sheets, which were supplied as part of a children’s activity pack and to be used in conjunction with flash cards, to teach a child to read and count. In ruling that the story sheets were not leaflets, one of the considerations was that they were not complete in themselves. The High Court in Odhams Leisure Group Ltd [1976] VATTR 229 upheld the Tribunal decision and added the consideration that they were not for general distribution or available for general collection.

A leaflet should be widely distributed - either free, or for a nominal consideration

A leaflet is not usually something that is only made available to a very restricted audience, or that costs a significant sum to purchase. In saying that a leaflet should be widely distributed, we apply a general rule that a leaflet must be intended to reach an audience of at least 50. This rules out:

  • very small productions
  • letters with an individual’s name or address added.

This will not normally be a problem when these letters are supplied to the final customer, as they are usually given away free. A printer who supplies a company with at least 50 letters without the addition of any individual’s name and address, may also zero-rate that supply. However, if a printer supplies a company with any number of personalised letters, he must standard-rate that supply. This is because the addition of the individual name or address directs the letter to an audience of 1, which means that the article may no longer qualify as a leaflet.

Hall of Names (LON/91/1256) (VTD 8806) considered family name histories in scroll format, which were sold for £5.99. The Tribunal here decided that these were not leaflets, as they were not for general distribution or collection - each was only available for purchase and upon requesting a particular name.

A leaflet must convey information by means of text

A leaflet should use text as the main way of conveying its message. Articles that are principally photographs with no significant or thematic text to support those photographs may not be zero-rated.

Two Tribunals demonstrate the role which the use of photographs can play in determining liability:

In Panini Publishing Ltd (LON/88/166Y) (VTD 3876), the Tribunal considered stickers, which consisted of adhesive-backed reproductions of photographs of popular subjects such as sports stars or the royal family. The decision that these could not qualify as leaflets was based primarily on their stiffness - see paragraph VBOOKS3320. However, the Chairman also noted that the wording on the face of the stickers was insignificant - any text was confined to the rear, which was removed upon insertion into the album. The principal component of these stickers was thus the reproduced photograph, to which the text was secondary. This was another factor which led to the decision that the stickers were standard-rated.

This contrasts with the decision in International Master Publishers Ltd (LON/91/2534Y) (VTD 8807). This considered cookery cards, which were ruled not to be leaflets. However, the reason for this decision was the lamination of the cards. The Tribunal did not attach any importance to the fact that one side of the card was an illustration of the completed dish - in this context, the Tribunal thought that the illustration was a valid means of conveying information, as it was important in cookery to visualise the finished product.