Airport VAT scam: Five things you need to know about the boarding pass rip-off

The Independent unearthed the scam – and led the charge to end it

Simon Read
Friday 14 August 2015 22:25
Airport shops have pocketed tens of millions of pounds in extra profits
Airport shops have pocketed tens of millions of pounds in extra profits

Is this about the high-street chains that have been charging us VAT in airport stores but pocketing it?

That's it. In effect, we've all been charged 20 per cent extra for anything we buy in airport shops and take outside the EU, as the retailers don't need to pay VAT on the goods. So a £5 bottle of suncream is sold for £6 on the high street once the £1 VAT is added. But it's the same price at airports, meaning stores such as Boots and WH Smith have been trousering an extra £1 of profit on the item.

But the odd pound here or there can't make that much difference?

Add them all up and you have tens of millions of pounds in extra profits – money that they should share with consumers to give them a cheaper price at the airport.

Are retailers going to do that?

To be fair, lots already do – but the big, well-known chains are holding out. WH Smith has claimed that it would be impossible to have two prices, one VAT-free for those travelling outside the EU, and one including VAT for those travelling to EU countries.

Is that true?

Lots of shops manage to do it, even those using the same computer retail systems as the newsagents chain. It looks more likely that it wants to continue pocketing the extra profit.

What should I do about this scandal?

Refuse to show your boarding card when asked in airport stores. There's no legal or regulatory requirement for you do to so. It's just a device to allow stores to reclaim the VAT. Without the proof that you're flying outside the EU – your boarding card – they can't reclaim the VAT. After The Independent exposed the scandal this week, Boots backed down and said that staff at its airport branches won't force shoppers to show their boarding cards. It has promised to look at its airport policies. That could be a big result for our campaign, but travellers should continue to say no to keep the pressure on retailers. I've made a video about the issue, which you can view below:

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