8 Fun Facts About VAT in Europe
Okay, so VAT might not be the most exciting of topics, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some humor to be found in this most ubiquitous of taxes. Due to the many ways VAT rules can be applied, the results can often be unexpected. Let’s take a look at eight fun facts about VAT that demonstrate just how quirky this tax can be.
With or without you
Across Europe, VAT rates can vary significantly from one country to another. But what’s often surprising to people is when and why items fall into different VAT brackets. For instance, in the UK, a gingerbread man is VAT free, but if it's covered in chocolate and gets icing eyes, it becomes standard-rated. Similarly, nuts sold in the UK with their shells on are considered VAT free, but attract the tax when sold without shells.
The great Jaffa Cake debate
In the UK, the classification of certain food items for VAT purposes can sometimes lead to disputes. A classic example is the infamous ‘Jaffa Cake debate’. The 1991 court case hinged on whether Jaffa Cakes (a popular biscuit-sized cake with orange filling and chocolate coating) should be taxed as cakes (zero rated VAT) or biscuits (standard rated VAT). The court ruled in favor of McVitie’s, considering Jaffa Cakes as cakes.
Another controversy over a favorite UK snack came in 2012 when the UK government announced that all foods purchased and consumed while hot would be charged at the standard 20% rate, and that included much-loved British pasties and pies. Following an uproar, and the clarification that such foods are often bought hot and eaten cold, the VAT rate hike was scraped. The affair became forever known as Pastygate.
Dance like the VAT man is watching
In some EU countries, dance studios and dance classes are subject to different VAT rates depending on whether the dance style is considered artistic or simply entertainment. This has led to some creative arguments over which dance styles are ‘high art’ and which ones are just for fun.
Less money for the bunny
If you’re planning on buying a pet for your children, consider a rabbit rather than a hamster or guinea pig. Rabbits are labeled as food under UK VAT rules, which means they aren’t subject to VAT. Hamsters and guinea pigs, on the other hand, are classified as pets and therefore taxed at the standard 20% rate.
In the fast-paced digital world, even VAT regulations have to keep up. Many European countries have implemented a reduced VAT rate for e-books and digital publications, but not for audiobooks. So, when the latest bestseller everyone is raving about comes out, you might want to give it a read rather than a listen.
Even criminals need to pay VAT
In 2010 a court in Sweden ordered a couple who had been selling counterfeit goods online to pay VAT on all their sales. They appealed the decision, arguing that it was illegal for the Swedish authorities to profit from illegal sales, but the original judgment was upheld.
Gelato - to go or not to go
Italy, famous for its delicious gelato, has an interesting approach to VAT on frozen treats. If you enjoy your gelato seated at a table, you'll be charged the standard rate of VAT. But, if you opt to take your scoop away and eat it while strolling around, you'll pay a reduced VAT rate. So next time you’re in Italy, maybe get that ice cream (and VAT) to go.
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