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Mandatory safety equipment is zero-rated, so lights should be too

Mandatory safety equipment, like car child seats and motorcycle helmets, doesn’t attract VAT. The same should be true of bike lights, says the creator of a new campaign on the Government’s e-petitions website.

Addressing his request to Her Majesty's Treasury, the fabulously-named Paul Power writes:

At the moment, bicycle lights are treated by the Treasury as being a luxury item and subject to VAT at 20%.

As bicycle lights are a mandatory safety accessory, and it is an offence for a cyclist not to have them on their bicycle during the hours of darkness, they should accordingly not be subject to VAT.

Cycle helmets, which aren't mandatory, but are considered by the Government to be an essential safety item, are accordingly not subject to VAT, while bicycle lights, which are mandatory and are an essential safety accessory are treated as a luxury item and subject to VAT at the highest rate.

This is wrong.

Bicycle lights can potentially save lives and reduce likelihood of traffic collisions.

Please abolish VAT on bicycle lights, which would have the immediate effect of reducing the cost of bicycle lights by 20% and make this mandatory safety equipment more affordable to all cyclists.

While that seems unarguably straightforward, don’t expect that if the petition is effective those 3000 lumen UberBright EyeScorcher ZQX tarmac-melters you have had your eye on will suddenly become 16.66 percent cheaper.

Safety equipment generally qualifies for VAT-exempt status only if it meets the relevant British Standard. Most high-power lights don’t, for one reason or another. They’re unlikely to become cheaper, unless the Treasury makes the sort of broad exemption that applies to car child seats, which attract a VAT rate of just five percent.

You can sign the petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/55344

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

14 comments

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hairyairey [300 posts] 2 years ago
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I have signed it - although I suspect that many other essential safety devices are also charged VAT. How about all the car parts required to pass the MOT test?

Well done on the maths too - to take off the 20% that's been added you reduce by 16.66% (anyone who disagrees is advised to enroll in a degree course in Mathematics).

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jimmyd [110 posts] 2 years ago
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Yes it's clearly a luxury not to be hit by a car/pedestrian/bike that hasn't seen you in the dark. There is also VAT on Tampons - Ask your missus if she thinks they are luxury items!

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jollygoodvelo [1468 posts] 2 years ago
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Why has no-one pointed this out before! Great petition (for once), I'll be signing.

jimmyd wrote:

Yes it's clearly a luxury not to be hit by a car/pedestrian/bike that hasn't seen you in the dark. There is also VAT on Tampons - Ask your missus if she thinks they are luxury items!

Somewhere in there, there's a joke about cyclists and tampons being stuck up c...

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AlanD [12 posts] 2 years ago
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I hate these populist bull..... petitions.

Pricing is set by what the consumer will pay, if that is 250 quid then it is 250 quid whether 20% of it is tax or not.

Pretty sure I paid VAT on a replacement headlight for the car...

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freespirit1 [242 posts] 2 years ago
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I think you will find according to EU rules VAT once it has been added is a one way street, i.e. it cannot be removed. The only option is to have it applied at a lower rate as happened to VAT on domestic fuel years ago.

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antonio [1126 posts] 2 years ago
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In the forties and fifties a purchase tax was levied on complete bikes but not on components, club cyclists therefore bought frames only and built up with parts they could afford or wanted thereby saving lots of money, it was a popular way of getting the bike you wanted.

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GREGJONES [289 posts] 2 years ago
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Cycling is a luxury, you always have the option of walking. hence cycling accessories should have VAT, no matter how essential they are to cycling.

Also Female sanitary products are a luxury because there are plenty of reusable options, moon cup for instance. I know this because the wife keeps telling me about it, again, and again.

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hillboy [11 posts] 2 years ago
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GREGJONES wrote:

Cycling is a luxury, you always have the option of walking. hence cycling accessories should have VAT, no matter how essential they are to cycling.

Also Female sanitary products are a luxury because there are plenty of reusable options, moon cup for instance. I know this because the wife keeps telling me about it, again, and again.

I think the idea that VAT is levied on luxury items is rather out of date, possibly because the pre 1973 purchase tax had a variable element depending on the deemed luxuriousness of the product and as poorer people pay more of their income in VAT than richer people the 'luxury tax' idea doesn't really stand up. It is a general tax on consumption, lower income people consume more of their income hence the regressive nature of VAT.

If bicycles are a luxury item because you can always walk instead then presumably train and bus fares are also a luxury for the same reason but they do not carry VAT. By your logic it is walking that is the luxury because shoes are subject to VAT. You could get a taxi and I suppose whether that is a luxury or not depends on whether the taxi firm is registered for VAT. Still, this might all change because private jets only recently became subject to VAT so for quite a few years they were not luxury items but now they are a luxury apparently, although if you buy a really really big jet and paint Hillboy airlines on it then it's not a luxury. Whichever way you travel you can always munch on a jaffa cake as you go, although I can't remember whether they finished up as a luxury or an essential in the end.

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John Stevenson [251 posts] 2 years ago
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Jaffa Cakes are, of course, an absolute essential and are not subject to VAT because they are classed as chocolate-covered cakes and not biscuits.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa_Cakes#Categorisation_as_cake_or_biscu...

If Hillboy AIrlines serves Jaffa Cakes, you definitely have my business.

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giff77 [1256 posts] 2 years ago
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GREGJONES wrote:

Cycling is a luxury, you always have the option of walking. hence cycling accessories should have VAT, no matter how essential they are to cycling.

So my bike is a luxury rather than an essential. Maybe you could suggest how I travel 10 miles to work at 4am when there is no other means of transport. Maybe it is a luxury for those who take a wee Saturday morning spin. But for me there's no choice and I would welcome a bit of a break on esential accessories. And breathe, ahhhhh

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CyclingDan [39 posts] 2 years ago
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Done my bit and have signed it striaght away. I am looking at for a decent light btw - possible the Exposure Diablo for commuting up to an hour both ways.

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burtthebike [355 posts] 2 years ago
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An interesting idea, but perhaps it could be taken a little further by proposing that vat be applied to those luxury fashion items, helmets?

Never been shown to be of use, only purchased because of mass, mostly unpaid advertising, and of very limited life, mostly going to landfill within a couple of years.

The money raised could be used to offset the immediate knee jerk reaction of the treasury that they couldn't afford to drop the vat on lights.

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Roberj4 [218 posts] 2 years ago
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I've signed it but it will end up the same as helmets. A reduction of VAT gives manufacturers/supplies the opportunity the increase RRP margins when launching latest products the following year and onwards. The advantage of a decrease in price will only be effective for a short period of time, on RRP prices already set.

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ragtag [218 posts] 2 years ago
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According to the Inland Revenue, children cars seats attract 5% VAT as do sanitary products mentioned above. True, it is less VAT but still VAT.
https://www.gov.uk/vat-rates

The other thing is that lights are not mandatory, they are required between sunset and sunrise. You are not required to use lights if visibility is reduced, eg. if thick fog descends while you are riding - however it would be advisable to use them though. Why? Because bikes are not required to have lights fitted when sold.

BTW, financial services are pretty much exempt from VAT. No justice eh?