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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

Excepted items: catering: secondary catering issues: single and multiple supplies

Because catering comes in a variety of forms and can be linked to a variety of events and situations, you may need to consider the problems surrounding single and multiple supplies.

A supply can consist of more than one item or component, but still be seen essentially as one overall supply. Examples of single supplies of hot food but with an incidental cold ingredient are given in section VFOOD4380. Items of packaging such as cartons or other containers, disposable items of plastic cutlery, sachets of condiments, and similar accompanying items are often seen as incidental to the main supply. They can be supplied in their own right, but when supplied in the course of catering they are usually incidental to the main supply.

You may also need to consider whether a supply of catering is itself integral or incidental to another supply. The most important case in this area is British Airways [1990] STC 643. The Court of Appeal held that in-flight catering supplied to airline passengers was integral to the overall supply of zero-rated passenger transport.

Nevertheless, there are situations where a transaction consists of a number of components, each of which is a separate supply with its own VAT liability, even if they are paid for together. These are often currently referred to by the trade as meal deals. Examples of take-away food which would attract VAT at different rates are:

  • a hamburger and a milk shake; or
  • a sandwich, an item of confectionery and a drink; or
  • a baked potato or hamburger with separately packaged coleslaw or salad; or
  • any meal consisting of hot and cold items supplied in separate containers.

You should also closely examine situations where a trader claims that catering is incidental to a zero-rated or exempt supply, or tries to extend the British Airways ruling. For example, a river cruise during which a meal is served is a multiple supply of zero-rated transport and standard–rated catering. The meal is not integral or incidental to the supply of passenger transport.

Fuller details of the criteria to apply are set out in VATSC, Supply and consideration.