VAT may have been intended to be a simple tax – but it was ended up being exceedingly complex. The basic rule is, "If in doubt, please ask!"
A number of specific VAT rules apply to Universities.
For general background information you may find it helpful to look at the Revenue and Customs guidance notes for Education.
VAT and Supplies
HM Revenue and Customs see the primary purpose of Universities as being to provide education. Education provided by the University (which includes tuition, educational seminars and conferences) is classed as an exempt supply – which means that no VAT is charged – regardless of whether the invoice is addressed to an individual or a company.
Research carried out for another "eligible body" (i.e. University, government department, local authority, etc.) can also be exempt (where the research is for the public good with no significant benefit to the funder).
Commercial sales (including research carried out for commercial organisations) are always standard-rated. Consultancy work is also standard-rated - regardless of who the customer is.
VAT and Purchases
If you are buying education or research from another University, you will not be charged VAT.
If you are making purchases directly related to a vatable supply (i.e. where VAT is deducted from the income received for the activity) then the VAT will be recovered in full.
If you are carrying out medically-related teaching or research, certain purchases of equipment and consumables will be zero-rated.
From 1 April 2000, all advertisements of any kind placed by the University of Dundee in any medium, including via the Internet, are eligible to be zero-rated by the supplier. Zero-rating also extends to the purchase of design and production services for the preparation of any advertisement (with the exception of advertisements on our own University website).
The OneUniversity Finance system produces a certificate authomatically when the VAT code 'ZCA' is selected - but a hard-copy form can also be accessed at:
We all benefit from zero-rating when we buy basic food items or books – but the University, as a charity, may purchase certain goods and equipment at the zero rate of VAT when they are to be used for medical research, training, diagnosis or treatment.
The goods that are eligible for relief are "medical, scientific, computer, video, sterilising, laboratory and refrigeration equipment for use in medical or veterinary research, training, diagnosis or treatment".
The zero rate also applies to the charges made by external contractors to repair or maintain existing qualifying equipment that was purchased or hired at the zero rate.
The goods must be used solely or mainly for the qualifying purpose. University staff are not able to obtain zero-rating on personal purchases.
The OneUniversity Finance system produces zero-rating with certificate documentation automatically, but hard-copy forms can be accessed at:
- VAT Certificate: Zero-rated - Medical Related Equipment
- VAT Certificate: Zero-rated - Medicinal Products and Substances
At Business Transformation - VAT you can find some further information about VAT and the OneUniversity Finance system – including a handy selection tool to help you determine the correct VAT code for making Supplies and Purchases.
- 1U Fin - VAT How To - Selecting VAT codes in Requisitioning
- 1U Fin - VAT Tool - VAT rates and definitions