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Printed matter VAT guidance

This document has been prepared by the University┬┐s taxation manager, Mark Smith, to provide guidance to MMU staff on the VAT liability of purchasing printed matter for marketing and other activities. For additional assistance, please contact Mark on extension 1870 or email

Basic position

There is a specific Schedule in the UK’s VAT legislation that allows for the zero-rating of certain printed matter. Zero-rating means that supplies of qualifying goods are not subject to VAT. The application of the zero-rating is dependent solely on the physical nature of the goods being provided, and MMU does not need to claim VAT relief, such as when placing orders for advertising.


What items are 'zero-rated'?

The following list of items is zero-rated, under Schedule 8, Group 3 of the VAT Act 1994.

  1. Books, booklets, brochures, pamphlets and leaflets,
  2. Newspapers, journals and periodicals,
  3. Children’s picture books and painting books,
  4. Music (printed, duplicated or manuscript),
  5. Maps, charts and topographical plans,
  6. Covers, cases and other articles supplied with items 1 to 5 and not separately accounted for.

Additional guidance on these items is provided below.


Books and booklets

HMRC consider books and booklets to normally consist of text and illustrations, bound in a cover stiffer than their pages.

In addition to self-explanatory items such as literary works and reference books, school work books and other educational texts in question and answer format, such as exam papers, are zero-rated as the spaces provided for answers are incidental to the essential character of the book or booklet.

Items such as diaries and address-books are standard-rated as they are essentially items of stationery.


Brochures and Pamphlets

There is no formal definition of a brochure or a pamphlet, and whether a particular product qualifies is a matter of fact and impression. Brochures typically consist of several sheets of reading matter fastened or folded together, and not necessarily bound in covers. They normally contain advertising material in the form of text or illustrations. Pamphlets are of a similar design but typically include information rather than advertising material



Leaflets are not defined in legislation, but in HMRC’s opinion, normally have the following features;

  • Consist of a single sheet of paper, no larger than A4
  • Intended to be held in the hand for reading by individuals
  • Convey information
  • Are complete (i.e. do not include areas for completion)
  • Are supplied in sufficient quantity to permit distribution (i.e. at least 50)
  • Are printed on limp paper
  • Are of an ephemeral nature or designed to accompany some other product or service, e.g. instruction leaflet.

Examples of items that are not deemed by HMRC to be leaflets, include ones designed

  • As calendars
  • To obtain admission to premises
  • To obtain a discount on goods or services
  • As reference material
  • For completion and return


Items with areas for completion

Items that are primarily intended for completion or detachment, which would otherwise be zero-rated as a leaflet or pamphlet, are standard-rated and subject to VAT at 20%. HMRC accepts that if a brochure, leaflet or pamphlet contains an area intended for completion or detachment that is less than 25% of the total area, then it is not primarily intended for completion or detachment and can therefore remain zero-rated.


Direct Mail

HMRC have recently announced a clarification of the VAT treatment of direct marketing services involving the production and distribution by mail of zero-rated printed items, such as brochures, leaflets and pamphlets.

Historically, a number of suppliers have treated the supply as one of delivered zero-rated goods. From 1 August 2015, any supplies of addressed mail or unaddressed mail (i.e. door-drops), that include the printing and distribution of zero-rated printed items to multiple recipients, should be treated as a supply of standard-rated direct marketing services.

Article last updated: Monday, November 2, 2015

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