The Vat Categorisation Problem - the Card Protection Plan

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Sunday 1st April 1973, the day the United Kingdom (UK) joined the European Union (EU). One prerequisite of joining the EU was the imposition of some form of Value Added Tax (VAT). The switch from purchase tax to VAT was a ‘relatively quiet changeover' and in retrospect ‘concealed the birth of the animal' (Lawrence et al 1999, pg. 2).

The animal that Lawrence et al speak of is one of growing complexity and complication in its mass of legislation and litigation, and one that stems from a common problem, the categorisation problem. It is well understood that Article 13 of the Sixth Directive lays out that certain items are to be exempt, and if it not, will be liable to tax. This becomes multifaceted in the UK where due to derogation, there are numerous zero-rated taxable items as well as those at a standard rate.

The problem lies in the fact it is not always obvious what category an item falls into; per se there is many a difference of opinion between the Customs and Excise (C&E) and the respective business. When this occurs, it is perceptible the dispute will end up in a court of law where a conclusion will be made. An ideal example of such a case is that of Card Protection Plan Ltd (CPP) v Customs and Excise Commissioners (C&E) (1999) STC 270, and one that is a leading case in the VAT categorisation problem of single and multiple supplies.

It is important to distinguish between a single (composite) supply and a multiple (mixed) supply. In a single supply, there is only one overall type of supply and only one VAT liability. In a multiple supply, a single inclusive price is charged for a number of separate supplies of goods or services each with their own VAT liability. (Wareham and Dalton 2005, pg. 1058)

The CPP operated a ‘plan' by which its members were protected against the loss or theft of credit cards and other valuable items which may result in financial loss or inconvenience. ‘In return for the subscription, CPP keeps a record of...
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