In News Corp UK & Ireland Limited v HMRC  UKUT 0404 (TCC), the Upper Tribunal (UT) found that electronic editions of newspapers should be treated in the same way as printed newspapers for VAT, and zero-rated.
- News Corp is the publisher of both printed and electronic newspapers, including The Sun and The Times. HMRC has accepted that hard copies of newspapers qualify for zero rating, it did not accept that reduced rating extended to electronic versions.
- News Corp submitted a claim to HMRC on the basis that its digital editions should be accorded the same treatment as printed newspapers and therefore should be zero-rated.
- HMRC argued that the legislation only allowed for the zero-rating of goods (i.e. printed newspapers) and it did not include services such as digital newspapers. News Corp appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT).
The FTT concluded that, although the digital versions were “essentially similar in content to and shared the same characteristics as the newsprint editions”, they were not “newspapers” within the legislation. As a result, they could not be zero-rated.
News Corp appealed the decision to the UT, arguing that the zero-rating of publications was introduced to promote literacy, democratic accountability and information dissemination. Electronic versions achieved the same objective. It also argued that the FTT decision violated the principle of fiscal neutrality.
The UT said that the FTT had reached the wrong decision in concluding that the legislation limited zero-rating to goods only.
It found common ground that the EU has so far not legislated in respect of zero-rating, aside from the standstill provision in Article 110.
- HMRC placed reliance on the recently enacted Directive 2018/1713 which allows EU member states to reduce the rate of certain electronic services, including e-papers.
- The UT dissmissed this, saying that the fact that within EU legislation relating to related subject matter (reduced-rating for VAT purposes) there is a clear distinction drawn between printed matter and electronically supplied services is not relevant to the case: the domestic law of the UK must apply.
It accepted News Corp’s argument that electronic versions of newspapers shared the same purpose and characteristics as printed newspapers and therefore digital versions of newspapers should be zero-rated for VAT purposes.
It is expected that HMRC will challenge the decision on appeal as the decision has a wider impact on organisations that supply electronic publications.