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HMRC internal manual

VAT Books

HM Revenue & Customs
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Books: What kinds of article are eligible?: Journals and periodicals

Physical characteristics

To qualify for relief as a journal or periodical, an article will normally:

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

Publication at regular pre-determined intervals

Journals or periodicals are issued in a series at regular intervals, but more frequently than once a year. In order to qualify for relief as a journal or periodical, the intervals of publication must be determined by the wishes of the publisher, not prompted by some external event. For this reason, theatre or sporting programmes may not qualify as journals or periodicals: these are only published to support a particular event; even if that event takes place regularly, it is the event which dictates the frequency of publication of the programme.


An article must fulfil the following functional requirements in order to qualify for relief as a journal or periodical:

  • it must be designed for reading, not for use as stationery, and
  • its main purpose must be to convey information, not to act as a vehicle for self-promotion.

Designed for reading, not for use as stationery

If a publication is primarily a collection of stationery items (such as forms for completion, or spaces for note-taking) packaged in journal or periodical format, it will not be eligible for zero-rating.

Information, not self-promotion

Journals or periodicals may contain a wide variety of information. They may be of interest to a particular specialist group or profession (for example journals aimed at lawyers, publicans or pharmacists). Alternatively, they may appeal to a wide section of the population (for example, popular fiction magazines or children’s comics). Periodicals may also consist almost entirely of advertisements providing that these originate from a number of sources. However, there are some publications which serve primarily to promote the proprietor’s own business, either by way of written articles or advertisements. These will not qualify for relief as periodicals.

The above policy is supported by the High Court decision in Snushall Dalby and Robinson (QB [1982] STC 537). This considered a Property Guide, which was issued by a firm of chartered surveyors, auctioneers and estate agents. The guide mostly contained photographs and descriptions of houses for sale, but did have one or two journalistic articles on the housing market. The High Court viewed the guide as primarily advertising or marketing material, and not as a periodical in the ordinary and everyday meaning of the word.

Text as a means of conveying information

Previously we believed that an item had to convey information by way of text to qualify as a journal or periodical. Two tribunal rulings have prompted us to revise this policy with regards to periodicals.

The tribunal in EMAP Consumer Magazines Ltd (LON/94/1710) (VTD 13322) ruled on the VAT liability of the appellant’s supply of a 32-page magazine consisting almost entirely of large poster size photographs. HMC&E denied zero-rating. This was appealed as the trader believed that the publication was a periodical.

In court Dr Brice (tribunal chairman) set out the following principles.

  • The word periodical should be given its ordinary natural meaning.
  • It is useful to ask what the man on the street would say if they were asked what the publication was.
  • Deciding whether an item is a periodical is a matter of impression.
  • The fact that a publication is published at regular intervals, with each issue being dated and numbered, is not sufficient for it to be described as a periodical. Although conversely, a publication without these characteristics is unlikely to be a periodical.
  • A publication consisting mainly of pictorial matter is capable of being a periodical.

Dr Brice applied these principles to the case and concluded the item under consideration was a periodical. Additionally, Dr Brice rejected the HMC&E argument that it was the intention of the legislation that periodicals should contain some text.

The EMAP tribunal ruling was supported by the decision in European Publishing Consultants Limited (LON/94/698A) (13841), where the trader made a similar supply.

Ways in which an article which has not fulfilled the tests in VBOOKS3500 may still qualify for zero-rating

  • Articles which are published at intervals of one year or more may be eligible for zero-rating as books, booklets (see VBOOKS3100), brochures or pamphlets (see VBOOKS3200).
  • 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).
  • Periodicals which primarily promote the business of their proprietor may be eligible for zero-rating as booklets (see VBOOKS3100), brochures or pamphlets (see VBOOKS3200).