In Thorsteinn Gardarsson v HMRC [2019] TC7255, the First tier tribunal held that a day planner was a book and not stationery for VAT.

Books (but not e-books) that are designed to be read or looked at are zero rated. Stationery is standard rated.

Thorsteinn Gardarsson were selling ‘The Action Day Planner'.

  • It was described as a 'book' and sold as a time management tool.
  • It has 115 pages of which the first 16 are text. This is followed by 52 dated double pages ruled with columns for each day of the week, and spaces for completion on goals, tasks and similar.
  • The company claimed the product was a book and should be zero rated.
  • HMRC said it was a diary and standard rated, raising assessments for VAT at the standard rate and penalties for failure to notify and inaccuracies.

The tribunal found that it was a book comprising of instructions with a template copied 52 times. If the template had appeared once for the purchaser to photocopy, there would be no argument that this was a book. The fact that the trader had provided those copies did not stop it from being a book.

It allowed the appeal ordering the assessments and penalties to be withdrawn. 

Comment

This case uses an approach which could be of much wider interpretation than day books. Indeed, the case itself (at para 31) considered the VAT position of cakes.

The distinction between zero rated books and standard-rated stationery has been made based on what the main point of the product is. A book of exam questions or crossword puzzles is a book as the parts to be completed are incidental. In contrast, a diary or address book is stationery as the printed text is incidental to completion by the user.

The approach in this case was that “where a product has the characteristics of two statutory categories..., then it should be placed in that category for which it has sufficient characteristics to qualify” and the tribunal found that this was the book category.

Links to our guides: 

Books and printed matter
How are books and printed matter treated for VAT purposes?

Penalties (VAT)
When do penalties apply for VAT? What penalties are charged and how can they be mitigated?

External links: 

Thorsteinn Gardarsson v HMRC [2019] TC 7255
VAT notice 701/10 on books and printed matter

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