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HMRC internal manual

VAT Relief for Disabled People Manual

Writing boards

Are writing boards eligible for VAT relief?

Sloping writing boards were originally designed and developed for use by office workers. The design was re-designed with deeper grooves and a steeper sloping angle for use by disabled people. Zero-rating cannot apply to a general purpose item that is marketed for use by disabled people even if some changes are made to the design to make it useful for disabled people. An objective test must be applied to see if the item has been designed solely for use by a disabled person. The design intention must be met for zero-rating to be achieved.

Adjustable magnetic sloping writing board

In the Tribunal case of Posturite (UK) Ltd (7848) the appellants had designed and manufactured an adjustable magnetic sloping writing board and claimed that they had designed it solely for the use of disabled people.

Posturite had originally designed and developed a sloping writing board for use by office workers. They then discovered that they had designed something which had the possibility of being of use to disabled people. They took the advice of professionals and of disabled people as to their needs. They then redesigned the board with the needs of disabled people in mind. This involved deepening the grooves and ensuring that the board could come up to a steeper angle.

This new board was marketed by Posturite as helpful to disabled people; particularly those suffering neck and back pain and to those in wheelchairs who could not lean forward. Partially sighted people could also use it to hold reading material at the optimal level. However, the company’s publicity material still showed the redesigned board as useful for office workers generally. It also indicated that it was useful to persons who suffer from neck and back pain in an office environment but who may not be chronically sick or disabled. Mr Millar CB, in giving his ruling said:

“…the word ‘designed’ in the particular context of sub-paragraph (g) is not used in the sense of ‘destined’ or ‘intended’ but in the sense of something being planned and fashioned in such a way as to have the quality that it is for use solely by a handicapped person.’ He went on ‘I cannot accept that something which is so designed and constructed as to be of use for a wide range of persons and not just the handicapped can be regarded as designed solely for use by a chronically sick or disabled person. In those circumstances I reject Mr Yorke’s submission that it is neither here nor there that the board may be bought and used by an able bodied person to relieve his neck or back pain.

In my judgement his suggested construction of the paragraph makes no sense in that products of similar utility for able and disabled persons would, on his interpretation, be zero-rated if targeted entirely towards the handicapped but standard-rated where the designer looked towards a wider market for his product”.