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HMRC internal manual

VAT Government and Public Bodies

HM Revenue & Customs
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Section 33 bodies: refund claims: common errors


Most errors and queries are caused by lack of understanding of VAT rather than any intention to over-claim. They generally fall into five broad categories.


Most questions involving eligibility are resolved by GABS Team when they receive the claim. Claimants are given a unique number to quote on their claims. Some mistakenly believe that this makes them VAT registered.

Ineligible bodies that may attempt to claim include:

  • joint boards or committees set up by bodies other than local authorities
  • parish meetings (except where they have been given parish council status under the Local Government Acts)
  • purely advisory committees that do not carry out local authority functions
  • community councils in England or Scotland
  • community associations
  • parochial church councils
  • organisations that merely obtain financial help from local authorities
  • village hall management committees, and
  • charities.

Any board or committee, with members other than only local authority members who have full voting rights, is unlikely to fall within section 33.

Those listed above are not local authorities within the meaning of section 96 of the VAT Act 1994. Neither are they on the list established by Treasury Order for the purposes of section33(3)(k) (see VATGPB4120). Any claims should therefore be rejected .

Those who request to be added to the Treasury Order list should first be referred to the criteria for inclusion set out in Notice 749 ’Local authorities and similar bodies’. (external users can find the notice at and then to VAT Supply Team (see VATGPB1600).


Generally un-registered bodies are only able to recover the VAT on purchases paid for out of their own funds. However, there are circumstances when funds from other sources may be used (see VATGPB4400).

In the case of trust funds (see VATGPB4450) care must be taken to distinguish between sole and custodian trustee status. Documentary evidence should be obtained in cases of doubt.

Business/non-business activities

Claims can only be made in respect on non-business activities. See VATGPB3000 in the event of issues arising from the distinction between business and non business.

Mixed use

A claimant who is genuinely unable to differentiate between business and non-business use, may apply a fair and reasonable method of apportionment (see VATGPB4435).

Exempt business activities

So long as the VAT incurred on exempt business activities is below the insignificance test (see VATGPB4510), an un-registered body may treat it as non-business for the purposes of section 33. Most un-registered bodies will fall into this category and so undue effort need not be applied to apportioning between exempt and non-exempt activity.