Printed matter and e-publications ― books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets and leaflets

Produced by Tolley

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

  • Printed matter and e-publications ― books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets and leaflets
  • What kinds of books and booklets can be zero-rated?
  • Examples of books and booklets
  • School workbooks and exam papers
  • Photo books
  • What kinds of brochures and pamphlets are zero-rated?
  • Single sheet brochures / wallets
  • What kinds of leaflets are zero-rated?
  • Examples of products that are not leaflets
  • What is the position of leaflets, brochures and pamphlets with areas for completion?
  • More...

Printed matter and e-publications ― books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets and leaflets

This guidance note examines the zero-rating which extends to the supply of books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets and leaflets.

With effect from 1 May 2020, zero-rating also extends to supplies of certain electronic publications (such as e-books). For details, see the Printed matter and e-publications ― e-publications guidance note.

For in-depth commentary on the legislation and case law in this area, see De Voil Indirect Tax Service V4.273A.

For an overview of the VAT status of printed matter and e-publications more broadly, see the Printed matter and e-publications ― overview guidance note.

What kinds of books and booklets can be zero-rated?

Books and booklets are not specifically defined in the VAT legislation. HMRC suggests that books and booklets are items which normally comprise text or illustrations and which are bound in a cover which is stiffer than their pages. Zero-rating can extend to both traditional books and ring-bound books.

As well as its physical characteristics, HMRC will only accept something is a book or a booklet for VAT purposes where it fulfils the ‘function’ of a book. In one particularly influential case, the High Court took the view that the function of a book was to be ‘read or looked at’. This meant that a blank diary or address book was not a book for VAT purposes. In another case that concerned an ‘activity planner’, the Upper Tribunal said that where an item is both designed to be ‘read or looked at’ but also for another function (such as to be written in), then it is necessary to look at its ‘main function’ when deciding if it is a book for VAT purposes.

Examples of books and booklets

In its guidance, HMRC provides a number of examples of items that it sees as falling within the category of ‘books and booklets’ and can be zero-rated:

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