Equipment and vehicles for disabled people might be free of VAT

If you have a long-term illness or you're disabled, you might not have to pay VAT on certain goods and services that you buy or bring into the UK. Certain building work that you have done may also be free of VAT.

Not all goods and services supplied to chronically sick or disabled people are eligible for VAT relief. In general, the items covered by the VAT relief are things that are of practical help to you because of your illness or disability.

This guide explains how the VAT relief works, who qualifies for the VAT relief, what types of goods and services you can buy without paying VAT and what you have to do so your supplier doesn’t charge you VAT.

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How the VAT relief works

If the goods or services you buy qualify for the VAT relief, your supplier will give you a sales invoice showing VAT at 0 per cent.  This means that you won’t be charged VAT. (It’s not a case of you having to pay the VAT and then claiming it back from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

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Who can buy qualifying goods and services without paying VAT?

You will be able to buy goods and services that are eligible for VAT relief if -

  • you are chronically sick or disabled and
  • you are buying them for your own personal or domestic use.

What is meant by chronically sick or disabled?

For the purposes of the VAT relief, you are chronically sick or disabled if:

  • you have a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect upon your ability to carry out everyday activities
  • you have a condition that the medical profession treats as a chronic sickness, such as diabetes
  • you have a terminal illness

You won't qualify if you are only temporarily disabled or incapacitated, such as suffering from a broken leg or other temporary injury. Neither will you qualify if you are elderly but are otherwise able-bodied and don’t suffer from any chronic condition. If you are over 60 you may only have to pay the reduced rate of VAT (currently 5 per cent) if you have certain mobility aids installed in your home. There is a paragraph within this guide on mobility aids for older people.

What is meant by personal or domestic use?

Personal or domestic use means that the goods or services are supplied for your own private use, rather than for business purposes.

Also they must be just for your own use - not for use by anyone else, or any other chronically sick or disabled people in general.

However, if you and your partner are both chronically sick or disabled and you buy goods or services for both of you to use, then you won't have to pay VAT.

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What goods and services can be bought without paying VAT?

If you have a long-term illness or you're disabled, you won't have to pay VAT when you buy any of the following items for your own personal or domestic use: 

  • medical or surgical appliances designed solely for the relief of a severe abnormality or severe injury
  • electrically or mechanically adjustable beds designed for invalids
  • sanitary devices, such as commode chairs, commode stools and frames for sitting on or rising from a sanitary appliance
  • chair lifts or stair lifts designed for use in connection with invalid wheelchairs
  • invalid wheelchairs and invalid carriages
  • hoists and lifters designed for use by invalids (this includes ‘lift & tilt’ or ‘riser’ chairs)
  • emergency alarm call systems of the type that link you to a specified person or a central control centre
  • incontinence products, such as disposable/washable pads and collecting devices
  • certain types of auditory aids (but not standard hearing aids)
  • certain types of low vision aids (but not spectacles and contact lenses)
  • the lease of a Motability vehicle

Also, if you are a wheelchair user, you won’t have to pay VAT on motor vehicles for your own personal or domestic use that are designed or substantially and permanently adapted to enable you to enter and drive, or enter and be carried in the vehicle

You also won't have to pay VAT on any charges made for the installation, repair and maintenance for some of the above items or spare parts and accessories for use in or with the items.

Certain building work to a disabled person’s private residence may also be VAT free. This is limited to:

  • constructing a ramp, widening an existing doorway or passage to help a disabled person enter or move about the building
  • installing, extending or adapting a bathroom, shower room, washroom or toilet where the work is necessary to suit the condition of a disabled person
  • installing a lift designed to help a disabled person move between floors within their home

If you need to have any general purpose goods adapted to suit your condition, anything you pay to have them adapted will be VAT free, but you will still have to pay the normal rate of VAT on the goods themselves.

Only disabled people and people suffering from a chronic illness are entitled to the zero-rating on the items outlined in this paragraph.  If you don’t have a disability or chronic illness and are aged over 60 you may be entitled to the reduced rate of VAT (currently 5 per cent) on certain mobility aids installed in your home.  See the paragraph below on mobility aids for older people.

Read more about what can be bought without paying VAT by chronically sick and disabled people in VAT Notice 701/7

Find out more about adapted motor vehicles for disabled people (PDF 506K)

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What you need to do to buy qualifying goods and services without paying VAT

You'll have to give the seller a written declaration stating that you are chronically sick or disabled and are entitled to buy qualifying goods and services VAT free. This declaration has to give enough information to show that you qualify. Normally, the supplier will provide you with the declaration for you to fill in and sign. They also have to fill part of it in, and then keep it with their records. If you are unable to sign the written declaration yourself, the signature of your parent, guardian, doctor or another responsible person is acceptable. Faxed declarations and declarations made via the internet are also acceptable.

If you provide a satisfactory declaration the seller will then be able to sell you the goods or services without charging you VAT.

View an example of the declaration you have to provide in VAT Notice 701/7

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Imported goods for disabled people

You can import certain goods into the UK without paying VAT or duty, as long as they're for your own domestic or personal use.

Goods you can import without paying VAT

Goods designed solely for the use of disabled people that you import for your own use are zero-rated anyway but, in addition, you may not have to pay VAT if you import the following:

  • any goods specially designed to be of educational, scientific or cultural help to people who are blind or partially sighted
  • any goods specially designed to give educational, employment or social help to people with physical or mental disabilities

You also won't have to pay VAT if you import spare parts, components, tools and accessories specifically or recognisably intended for such goods.

If the goods need adapting to make them suitable for use by disabled people, you can't get any relief on importing the unadapted goods. You'll have to get them adapted before you bring them into the EU.

See a list of examples of goods for the blind that qualify for import VAT relief at the end of this guide.

How to get the relief

If you're bringing the goods in yourself, in your accompanied baggage, you don't need any prior approval. Simply declare them in the Red Channel or Red Point when you arrive. You may be asked to fill in and sign a declaration.

If you're bringing them in by any other means, you have to obtain authorisation first. Write to the National Imports Reliefs Unit (NIRU) at the address below and they'll send you a form to fill in.

HM Revenue & Customs
National Import Reliefs Unit
Custom House
Killyhevlin Industrial Estate
Co Fermanagh
BT74 4EJ
Tel: 028 6632 2298
Fax: 028 6632 4018

After you send the form back to HMRC, you'll be sent an NIRU certificate and a copy of the certificate. Hand the certificate to customs when you import the goods, and keep the copy for your own records.

Goods imported by post

If the goods are being sent to you by post, ask the sender to write clearly on the package and its accompanying customs declaration:

'GOODS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE: RELIEF CLAIMED'

HMRC may send you a form to fill in and complete, together with a declaration. If the package isn't properly marked you may have to pay duty and VAT. If that happens, write to customs at the postal depot where the charges were raised, enclosing your original NIRU certificate, the VAT declaration and the document showing the charges. Explain what happened and if they're satisfied that you don't need to pay duty and VAT on the goods, you will receive a repayment.

Goods imported as freight

If the goods are imported as freight you must claim relief by completing an import declaration on a Single Administrative Document (SAD, form C88). You can get an import agent to do this, but if you want to complete the SAD yourself and need more information on the details required for the import declaration, please refer to the Tariff.

Enter one of the following Customs Procedure Codes (CPCs) in box 37 of the SAD:

  • CPC 40 00 14 - for goods imported from outside the Customs Union on which you claim relief from duty and VAT
  • CPC 49 00 14 - for goods imported from the Special Territories or countries having a Customs Union with the EC on which you claim relief from VAT

Present your copy of the NIRU certificate and if you're applying for a VAT zero rating, an eligibility declaration.

If you're still waiting for your NIRU certificate, you'll have to provide financial security for the duty and VAT before HMRC will release the goods. As soon as you receive the original NIRU certificate, send it to HMRC at the port or airport where the import declaration was made. Quote the declaration number and date. HMRC will discharge the security if they are satisfied you qualify for relief.

The Customs Union includes all EU countries plus Andorra, San Marino and Turkey.

What happens if you claim late?

Normally you should claim relief at the time of import. HMRC may accept a belated claim subject to certain conditions.

More about repayments of VAT in VAT Notice 199

View an example of the eligibility declaration you have to provide in VAT Notice 701/7

More about what goods can be imported at a reduced rate of VAT and how you can import them in VAT Notice 371

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Imported goods for the blind

These are examples of goods for the blind or partially sighted that you could import without paying VAT, if you meet the other conditions:

  • Braille paper
  • white canes
  • typewriters adapted for use by people who are blind or partially sighted
  • equipment for the mechanical production of Braille and recorded material
  • television enlargers for people who are blind or partially sighted
  • electronic orientator and obstacle detector appliances
  • teaching aids and apparatus specifically designed for use by people who are blind or partially sighted
  • Braille watches with cases not made of precious metals
  • CD players, record players and cassette players specially designed or adapted for people who are blind or partially sighted
  • talking books, magnetic tapes and cassettes for the production of Braille and talking books
  • electronic reading machines
  • table games and accessories specially adapted or designed for people who are blind or partially sighted
  • all other articles specially designed to be of educational, scientific or cultural help to people who are blind or partially sighted
  • spare parts, components, tools and accessories specially or recognisably intended for any of the above goods

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Mobility aids for older people

Any person who is over 60 can buy the following items at the reduced rate of VAT (currently 5 per cent) when they are supplied and installed in their own home or a home shared with friends and relatives: 

  • grab rails
  • ramps
  • stair lifts
  • bath lifts
  • built-in shower seats or showers containing built-in shower seats
  • walk-in baths with sealable doors

The reduced rate doesn’t apply if you just buy the goods. The reduced rate applies only if you are having these goods supplied and installed.

Read more about reduced-rate VAT on mobility aids for older people

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Contacting HMRC about VAT reliefs for disabled people

For more help about VAT reliefs for disabled people you can contact HMRC by email, phone or post.

Contact HMRC about VAT reliefs for disabled and older people

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