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HMRC internal manual

VAT Construction

Zero-rating the ‘approved alteration’ of a ‘protected building’: ‘alterations’ and ‘repair or maintenance’: meaning of ‘alteration’ for VAT purposes

‘Alteration’ is not defined in VAT law. It should therefore be given its ordinary meaning to cover any work carried out to the fabric of a building, except that which is de minimis.

The work need not be substantial in relation to the building as a whole. Work that is not to the fabric of the building is not an alteration (VCONST08480).

‘Alteration’ does not mean any work that requires listed building consent under planning law. Not all works falling within the scope of planning law can be classed as work to the fabric of the building.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) interpretation of the term ‘alteration’ is derived from the House of Lords judgment in Viva Gas ([1983] STC 819). The case was about the first time installation of gas fires where there had previously been solid fuel fireplaces. The work included demolishing and removing the existing fireplaces and adapting the flue to receive the gas appliance. In holding the work was an alteration the Court said:

I can see no ground on which the meaning of the ordinary English word ‘alteration’ qualified by the adjectival phrase ‘of any building’ should be construed as excluding any work upon the fabric of the building except that which is so slight or trivial as to attract the application of the de minimis rule.

‘De minimis’ refers to the general legal principle that insignificant matters should be ignored. When deciding whether work is ’de minimis’ you should consider the effect of the work on the building, rather than the cost or effort required in carrying out the work.