Rule 3.18 of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code states that “quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is clearly addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable“.
How marketers should present the VAT in their ads will depend on who their customers are.
All customers are consumers
Consumers usually have to pay VAT and can’t generally recover it. If customers are consumers, all prices quoted in ads should include VAT in the stated price. It is not sufficient to state a VAT-exclusive price accompanied by information that VAT is payable. When VAT is included in the quoted price, it is optional to include a statement to that effect.
The ASA has ruled against many ads which present VAT-exclusive prices to customers who have to pay VAT. In July 2012, 18 complainants objected that ads for personalised calendars and diaries were misleading because prices did not include VAT (and other compulsory costs, such as postage) (VistaPrint Ltd, 4 July 2012).
All customers are businesses
VAT-registered businesses normally don’t pay VAT, or can to recover VAT. Therefore, the use of VAT-exclusive prices is likely to be acceptable in ads if the audience consists of business customers. Where this is the case, it should be made clear in the ad that this is a VAT-exclusive price, and who this price applies to, by clearly addressing it to those who are eligible.
It may be clear that an ad is addressing business customers from the context of the marketing communication, for example from the name of the website or the placement of the ad, however if this is not the case marketers should make this clear, for example by prominently stating that the price is a “trade price”. If public consumers see the ad and it is not clear that the VAT-exclusive price is a trade-only price and does not apply to them, the ad is likely to be considered misleading.
The ASA has upheld complaints against ads that failed to clearly address VAT-exclusive prices. A complaint about an ad for domain names costing 99p was upheld because whilst the ASA considered it likely that the majority of consumers would be businesses, the ad did not make it clear that this price only applied to those who did not pay, or could recover VAT (123-Reg Ltd, 19 July 2017).
Customers are a mixture of consumers and businesses
If your customers consist of both businesses and consumers, VAT-inclusive prices should be given. Ads may also state VAT-exclusive prices however marketers should ensure that a VAT-inclusive price is given at least equal prominence to the VAT-exclusive price.
If both VAT-inclusive and VAT-exclusive prices are stated in ads, VAT-exclusive prices should be clearly addressed to those who pay no VAT or can recover VAT, and should be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable (e.g. “Trade Price £X excl.VAT@20%”). Using “ex. VAT” and “inc. VAT” alone will not be sufficient to make clear to whom each claim is addressed and omits the rate of VAT.
The ASA upheld complaints about an ad for printing products which stated a VAT-exclusive price only, because they considered that both business and non-business consumers may wish to purchase these products. They told the advertiser to ensure that, where an ad was directed at both consumers and businesses, the VAT-inclusive price was given, and that VAT-exclusive prices were accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable (Computer Risk Management Ltd, 30 March 2016).
For more information, see this Advertising Guidance note.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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