Cultural exemption

By Tolley
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The following Value Added Tax guidance note by Tolley provides comprehensive and up to date tax information covering:

  • Cultural exemption
  • What is covered by the exemption?
  • Partial exemption
  • Cultural bodies with local authority councillors as trustees

This guidance note provides an overview of when entrance fees charged at certain cultural exhibitions and events can be exempted from VAT. This guidance note should be read in conjunction with the National museums and galleries – VAT refund scheme guidance note.

HMRC Notice 701/47 ; De Voil Indirect Tax Service V4.176 (subscription sensitive); Directive 2006/112/EC art 132(1)(n) 
What is covered by the exemption?

Only admission charges levied for the following are exempt from VAT:

  • art exhibitions
  • choreographic performances of a cultural nature
  • galleries
  • museums
  • musical performances of a cultural nature
  • theatrical performances of a cultural nature
  • zoos (excludes botanical gardens)

Theatrical, musical or choreographic performances of a cultural nature would usually include a live performance of stages plays, dancing or music in order to be viewed as cultural and therefore included within the scope of this exemption.

VCULTURE1210; VCULTURE1400

Supplies of goods provided in connection with the admission to one of the above events is not covered by the exemption. This is because these would normally be programmes which are zero-rated publications. Therefore there would be no VAT benefit that would be obtained if these were covered by the exemption. See the Zero-rated – supplies of printed matter guidance note.

The scope of the cultural exemption in respect of admission charges was the subject of a court decision in Twycross Zoo. In this case, a zoological society charged customers an additional fee in order to experience a ‘close encounter’ with giraffes and elephants. The fee was charged in addition to its normal admission charge for the zoo. HMRC considered that the additional charge for the close encounter was exempt, so that related input tax was irrecoverable. However, the tribunal allowed the society's appeal, finding

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