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HMRC internal manual

VAT Clothing

The scope of relief for school uniforms: areas of contention

The trade and the public sometimes argue that:

  • To extend zero-rating to all school uniforms would be fairer, in that it would target children by age rather than size, thus eliminating discrimination against children of above average size;
  • The original aim of P/urchase Tax was to allow relief for all school children, as the school leaving age was 14 when relief was first introduced.

In reply to these arguments, you may bring out the following points:

  • A general relief for school uniform would replace one form of discrimination with another. Since not all schools have uniforms, larger children attending a school without a uniform requirement would have to wear ordinary clothes subject to VAT at the standard rate.
  • The law seeks to give relief to young children. This term could definitely not be applied to 17 or 18 year old school-children.
  • School uniform potentially comprises a wide range of clothing, many items of which (including shoes, blouses, plain white or blue shirts) are quite acceptable as everyday adult wear. This is becoming increasingly the case as schools move away from strictly utilitarian or traditional styles and towards more fashionable wear. Thus, a general relief would allow significant numbers of adults to purchase zero-rated clothing, particularly if relief for uniforms was applied up to school-leaving age.