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HMRC internal manual

VAT Books

Books: What kinds of article are eligible?: Newspapers (Item 2)

Physical characteristics

To qualify as a newspaper, an article will normally

  • consist of several sheets, which are either folded or bound together, and
  • be published at regular, pre-determined intervals.

Publication at regular, pre-determined intervals

Newspapers are usually published at frequent intervals - daily or weekly is common. Whilst we do not specify any particular interval of publication, we do state that in order to qualify as a newspaper, the intervals should be:

  • regular, and
  • determined by the wishes of the publisher, not prompted by some external event.

The above conditions are mainly intended to remove publications such as theatre or sporting programmes from the relief, even if they are issued in the format of a newspaper. You should not seek to standard-rate occasional souvenir issues of established newspapers - for example those commemorating a royal marriage or the results of a general election.


A publication must fulfil the following functional requirement to be eligible for relief as a newspaper.

  • It must be predominantly devoted to news in the broad sense of the word - that is, information about recent or imminent events.

The preponderance of news

When we refer to newspapers being devoted to news, we are not seeking to make any moral or qualitative judgement on their content. Nor are we saying that a newspaper may not contain non-news articles, such as crossword puzzles or weather forecasts. However, these must be an incidental feature of the publication: the primary function must remain the dissemination of news. Thus publications which take a newspaper format but consist almost entirely of advertisements are not newspapers in terms of Group 3; they may qualify as periodicals, which are dealt with in VBOOKS3500.

The principal tribunal case dealing with newspapers is Greyform Publications Ltd [1988] VATTR 115 (3158). This considered a wall sheet which contained specialised information on greyhound racing. In ruling that this was not eligible for relief, the tribunal stressed two factors.

  • Greyform was not published at regular, pre-determined intervals: its sole reason for existence was to give details of greyhound race meetings, and it was not published if those meetings did not take place.
  • Greyform did not contain a significant amount of news. Its predominant purpose was to act as a guide to betting, rather than to publish new information about recent or imminent events.

Delivery and handling charges

Charges for delivered newspapers are normally zero-rated - as explained in Notice 700/24 Postage and Delivery Charges. However, you should be careful to distinguish these from handling charges. Occasionally, a publisher will pay for a free magazine to be distributed in conjunction with a newspaper. The magazine publisher will normally pay the newspaper proprietor for agreeing to insert the free magazine, and the newspaper will, in turn, pay its newsagents for its insertion and delivery to householders. We view both payments as handling charges: they are standard-rated as supplies of services, regardless of the liability of the printed matter involved.

Ways in which an article which has failed the tests in VBOOKS3400 may still qualify for zero-rating

  • Articles which are not published at regular, pre-determined intervals may be eligible for zero-rating as booklets (see VBOOKS3100), brochures, or pamphlets (see VBOOKS3200).
  • Articles which are not predominantly devoted to news, such as those consisting almost entirely of advertisements, may qualify for zero-rating as journals or periodicals (see VBOOKS3500).
  • Articles which convey information by means of geographical representations may be eligible for zero-rating as maps (see VBOOKS3800).
  • Articles which consist mainly of music may qualify for relief under Item 4 (see VBOOKS3700).