Time for VAT on PPE to go the way of the ‘Tampon Tax’, says BDA

21 October 2020
2 min read

The British Dental Association has warned Rishi Sunak that failure to extend the VAT exemption for personal protective equipment (PPE) will heap further pressures on health and social care providers already facing an uncertain future.

In an open letter to the chancellor, the association has called for an urgent change in approach, including extension of the VAT free period, enabling health and social care providers to reclaim VAT on expenses, and even potential abolition. 

The stated policy objective of the exemption was to "relieve the burden of VAT on the price of purchasing PPE used for protection from coronavirus by front line workers." The BDA has stressed that nothing has changed to warrant the return of the normal rate. 

In order to meet national guidance following the resumption of face-to-face services in England on June 8, dentists are required to wear high level PPE, similar to those used in operating theatres. Industry sources have estimated costs for an aerosol generating activity – routine care involving use of high-speed instruments – at £1.13 pre-Covid to £11.83 post-Covid, a more than ten-fold increase. 

The government remains the principal buyer of PPE, thus reducing scope for lost VAT revenues from a change in policy. When first announced to cover May 1, 2020 until July 31, 2020, the Treasury estimated the original value of saved VAT for industry at £100m. Any move would be of singular benefit to both healthcare and retail sectors. 

A consortium of social care providers is already pressing for a fairer set of rules to enable homes to reclaim VAT on their expenses, such as PPE, utilities, rent and repairs. The BDA has stressed this approach may also be required to assist the majority of dental practices, which are likely to face significant building works to meet new public health guidance and thus increase patient numbers closer to pre-pandemic levels. It is anticipated no capital funding will be offered to meet these costs.  

While NHS providers are now able to secure some PPE from the government’s new PPE portal, private dentistry, which has received little to no support from the government beyond access to credit and represents over half of total public spend on dental care, remains ineligible. 

British Dental Association chair Eddie Crouch said, "A policy designed to relieve burdens on the healthcare sector is set to go when it is most needed. The result is that dentists, care homes and tens of thousands of other businesses will struggle with added costs. 

"A short-term extension is essential, but we need to see real imagination from government. Giving health and social care providers the ability to reclaim these costs could offer a viable way forward. 

"PPE is a fact of life for the foreseeable future. We need clarity on why VAT on this life-saving necessity isn't going the way of the Tampon Tax."  

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