Airport passengers shopping at Heathrow terminal 5 / Getty Images

As the busiest holiday weekend ever for Britain’s travel industry approaches, the VAT element that retailers retain will add up to millions of pounds

The Independent’s campaign to end the “sunscreen scam” at airport shops has gathered support nationwide, with a growing clamour for retailers to return the 20 per cent VAT charged to passengers heading outside the European Union.

On a £6 bottle of sunscreen, the tax element is £1. Retailers scan the buyer’s boarding pass, and for any purchase by a traveller heading beyond the EU, they need not pass the tax on to the Treasury.

As the busiest holiday weekend ever for Britain’s travel industry approaches, the VAT element that retailers retain will add up to millions of pounds.

Among dozens of comments on The Independent’s Facebook page, Patrick Joyce wrote: “I fly every week and I am heartily sick of having to show my boarding card. As it's used by the companies to reclaim VAT, and now that I realise they don't pass it on to me, they can whistle for it!”

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If a customer is travelling beyond the EU, retailers do not pass VAT on to the Treasury (Getty)

Tony Holley said he had been given a misleading explanation about why the store assistant needed to scan his boarding pass: “I was told that it was for marketing purposes only.”

Susan Woolley wrote: “Don’t buy duty-free - you can probably get it cheaper in a store. If every airline passenger did this, the airport shops will have to change.”

The Money Saving Expert founder, Martin Lewis, called on travellers to refuse to let airport retailers scan boarding passes.

 

Speaking on BBC Radio 2 to Jeremy Vine, he said: “What we need to do if we want to get them to change their policy is quite simple: those of you who are going away this summer, outside the EU, when they ask for your boarding pass, say ‘No, sorry, I’m not going to give it to you, it only gives you a reduction, unless you pass that on to me I’m not going to give it to you. Please tell your bosses’.”

Mr Lewis said travellers should ignore claims by retail staff that showing a boarding pass is obligatory: “You’re not protecting the sanctity of Britain by giving them your boarding pass - you’re enabling the commercial company you’re dealing with to get a reduction on its tax bill.”

On Twitter, Godfrey Mutizwa said: “Always suspected those duty free shops were a scam. Better it seems to buy on the high street and claim VAT back.”

Andrew Alli tweeted: "I was never a big fan of airport duty free. Now I'm going to stop buying on principle.”

Back on The Independent’s Facebook page, Ian Homer recommended his airport strategy to other passengers: “Eyes down. Don't succumb to the shiny, shiny ‘buy me’ signs. Go and argue with airport staff about the water fountain that's not working. That's how I pass the time.”

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