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HMRC internal manual

VAT Trade Unions and Professional Bodies

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Trade unions and professional bodies: Item 1(c) branch of knowledge / professional expertise: Fostering professional expertise

“Item 1(c)” of “Group 9” allows exemption to “associations” whose “primary purpose” is “fostering professional expertise”. Exemption cannot be given under this head unless the occupation to which the expertise relates is a recognised “profession”. It is for this reason that many associations seeking exemption will attempt to do so under both “Items 1(b)” and “1(c)”.

The approach of tribunals to this question is shown by the case of the “National Association of Funeral Directors (LON/84/467)”.

The National Association of Funeral Directors claimed exemption for its supplies to members on the grounds that its primary purpose was either the advancement of a branch of knowledge or the fostering of professional expertise. When considering the professional expertise head, the tribunal concluded initially that the Association was fostering expertise “about the techniques of funeral directing and as to many matters concerned therewith”. However, exemption was then dependent upon whether or not funeral directing constituted a recognised “profession”. The tribunal’s decision was that it did not and, in reaching that conclusion, a distinction was made between acting in a professional manner and being a member of a “profession”:-

… “it is clear from the judgement of Du Parcq L J in Carr v. Inland Revenue Commissioners” … “that the category of ‘professions’ is not closed. But in my judgement the time has not yet come when the man or for that matter the lady on the Clapham omnibus would recognise funeral directors as members of a recognised profession, although I have little doubt that they would agree that many if not most funeral directors carried out their functions in a professional manner.”

The more recent tribunal cases that looked at the application of Item 1(c) include EMIS National User Group and the Institute of Information Security Professionals.

EMIS National User Group

EMIS was established to ‘improve patient care through the better use of health information and information technology’ and to support users of certain ‘medical information systems.’ The tribunal found that its activities constituted the fostering of professional expertise and qualified for exemption on the basis that its primary purpose was to assist and encourage its members to acquire and utilise the knowledge, skills and tools, which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support delivery of health care and promote health.

HMRC had argued that EMIS was simply providing an IT support service to its members - who were professionals in their own right. The tribunal found as a matter of fact that it provided much more than that.

This case was not appealed based on the particular facts. However, HMRC’s view remains that merely offering support services which are incidental to the practice of a profession does not amount to the fostering of professional expertise.

Institute of Information Security Professionals

The Institute of Information Security Professionals (IISP) is a non-profit unincorporated membership body having as members people with an interest in information security.

HMRC argued that information security was not a profession neither was it engaged in the advancement of knowledge, as its activities were not of an academic nature. As many cases have found that ‘professional and ‘profession’ in item 1(b) and (c) must be given a consistent meaning. Therefore, to foster professional expertise in Item 1(c) a body must consist of members having a profession. HMRC relied on the tribunal decision in Institute of Cleaning Science Ltd to support its case.

The tribunal agreed that IISP wasn’t engaged in a profession, however, it found that the fact that IISP did not come with Item 1(b) did not debar it from coming within Item 1(c). It cited the tribunal decision of EMIS where it found that fostering professional expertise is a practical matter. There the tribunal found that that EMIS software was a practical means provided to support the delivery of heathcare and promote health but amounted to the fostering of medical professional expertise connected with the profession of its members

The decision in this case and that of EMIS do not establish any new principles. They were not appealed because of the particular facts. Policy remains that the activities carried out by a body must be in connection with a profession.

In the cases referred to in VTUPB4100, where tribunals found that there was no “profession” for the purposes of “Item 1(b)”, it inevitably followed that the associations could not be “fostering professional expertise” for the purposes of “Item 1(c)”.