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HMRC internal manual

VAT Books

HM Revenue & Customs
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Books: What kinds of article are eligible?: Maps, charts and topographical plans (Item 5)

Physical characteristics

To qualify for relief as maps, charts or topographical plans, an article will possess the following physical characteristics.

  • It will be two-dimensional. Thus traditional maps and charts and even business cards may benefit, but globes may not. Any novelty maps printed onto items such as mugs are also excluded.
  • It will provide a geographical representation.

Here we adopt a very lenient interpretation of the term geographical. An article must feature a geographical representation of an area of land, sea, or the heavens. That representation must be more than an aerial photograph - for example, national or county boundaries may be marked, or natural features such as rivers or mountain ranges named. However, the representation need not be strictly accurate or to scale; and it may cover only a minor area of the printed matter, the remainder of which is devoted to supporting pictures or text.

Our policy of restricting relief to those articles which give a geographical representation is supported by the tribunal in Brooks Histograph Ltd [1984] VATTR 46. Here a family tree chart was not considered to be eligible for relief, as it was not a chart in the context of Item 5. The tribunal considered that only astronomical or navigational charts would be eligible for zero-rating.


Here you need to ascertain the primary function of the article which you are considering. In other words, would a person buy the article in order to use it as a map, chart, or topographical plan; or is the article actually something else which also bears a geographical representation? For example, we have ruled that the following do not fulfil the function of maps:

  • decorative textile articles,
  • framed maps.

Decorative textile articles

For example, scarves, tea towels or tapestries - these may bear a map, but they are not purchased for that reason. They are therefore ineligible for zero-rating.

Framed maps

Our view is that the act of framing changes the map into a decorative article - its value lies in its ability to adorn a wall, not its ability to be used as a map. Framed maps are therefore not generally eligible for relief. However, there are some maps which remain functional rather than decorative, even after framing. For example, some maps are laminated and mounted onto wood and could be said to be crudely framed, in that wooden heading might he glued to the edges to prevent the map from peeling away from its backing. The lamination allows the use of marker pens and sometimes the map is mounted onto soft board to enable pins to be inserted. In these circumstances, the intention is clearly to use this as a map in the normal sense of the word and you should allow zero-rating.