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HMRC internal manual

VAT Relief for Disabled People Manual

Pain relief equipment

TENS machines

The TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators) machine is a device which provides pain relief by applying an electrical current to the surface of the skin. These machines are of undoubted benefit to sufferers from chronic pain and are widely used by people with disabilities. They are also, however, marketed for use in acute conditions such as sports injuries and the treatment of post operative pain and are frequently used in coping with labour pain.

Neen Design Ltd (11782)

The Tribunal considered the VAT liability of the TENS machine. In concluding that it was zero-rated under item 2(g) (see VRDP05100) The Tribunal was satisfied that someone suffering chronic pain to an extent necessary to require a TENS machine could be said to be ‘chronically sick or disabled’. He acknowledged however that “a significant number of supplies are to acute pain sufferers” and went on:

“To resolve the question I need to examine the design features of the equipment and ask whether these make it something designed for the use of chronic pain sufferers and not designed for the use of acute pain sufferers. The fact that it is used by acute pain sufferers will not disqualify supplies of it from zero-rating so long as its design was solely for chronic pain sufferers. Bearing in mind the factors summarised above, I think that the evidence supports Neen’s claim that the MICROTENS and the XENOS equipment were designed solely for use by handicapped persons, i.e. sufferers from chronic pain. I have had some misgivings about the COMPACT-TENS. The description on the brochure, as noted above, shows that COMPACT-TENS is being expressly marketed to sufferers of both acute and chronic pain. I have also concluded that COMPACT-TENS has been designed solely for use by chronic pain sufferers. All the features of the design were introduced to deal with chronic pain. The way the COMPACT-TENS machines is marketed does not in my view displace the fact that it was in all material respects designed for use by chronic pain sufferers.”

Do TENS machines meet the ‘designed solely’ criteria?

In the above appeal, the scientific and medical evidence presented about the original design intention was sufficient to outweigh the fact that a significant number of these machines were used by those suffering from acute (short term) conditions and therefore not ‘disabled’.

This demonstrates that if something was originally designed solely for use by disabled people, the fact that it might now also be used, and marketed for use, by others will not necessarily disqualify it as having been ‘designed solely’ for use by disabled people.

Are TENS machines eligible for VAT relief?

TENS machines can be zero-rated when purchased by a disabled person for domestic or personal use, or when supplied to an eligible charity that makes them available for use by disabled people.

However, many TENS machines are supplied for use by people suffering short term pain such as in childbirth or sport’s injuries. Such people are not regarded as ‘disabled’ for VAT purposes, and so TENS machines supplied to them are taxable at the standard rate.