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HMRC internal manual

VAT Books

Books: Printed matter supplied with services: Individually commissioned articles


You may be asked to consider an article which is only of value to the client who asked that it be produced. A common example is charts or computer prints produced to give astrological information about a specific individual born on a particular day and year. This information is made to the order of a particular individual and is no value to anyone else. This is a standard-rated supply of services and the printed matter is ancillary.

How to decide if printed matter is individually commissioned

The fundamental characteristic of an individually commissioned article is that the customer instigates and controls its production. Indicators of this are that the article is not made freely available, or that the copyright is passed over to the customer on completion.

Tribunal cases

Two Tribunals deal with this issue.

  • Hall of Names (LON/91/1256) (VTD 8806) concerned the supply of a scroll depicting the family history of a particular surname. This was accepted as a supply of goods. The supply was not seen as specific to any individual, as anyone asking for the history of a particular name received the same product. By implication, however, a specific genealogy of an individual would be akin to an astrological chart and thus a standard-rated supply of services.
  • In City Research Associates Ltd [1984] (VATTR 189) the Tribunal needed to decide who was in control of a publication. The company visited a number of Stock Exchange firms, some of whom confirmed that they were interested in an investment publication and agreed to make cash advances to fund the necessary research. However, control and design remained in the hands of City Research Associates, who retained copyright. Thus, City Research Associates had actively sought business from potential customers, but had not worked to the instructions of those customers. The publication was therefore eligible for zero-rating as a booklet.

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Further copies

Sometimes a decision is made to subsequently print extra copies of a publication which was originally individually commissioned. Here, the value normally lies in the printed matter rather than the research services. The extra copies may be zero-rated if:

  • they would qualify under the normal Group 3 rules, and
  • they are priced only to cover the extra production costs and a reasonable profit margin.