Why are safety boots VAT exempt?

We often get asked why safety boots are VAT exempt while our military boots, police boots, and tactical are not, and the answer is simple: because safety boots are a legal requirement in certain workplaces. This doesn’t fully answer the question, though, as if this was the case then surely safety shoes should be exempt also. Unfortunately, they cannot be and what’s more, while it may look it, safety boots are also not actually VAT exempt. If you’re confused, don’t worry. It is all a little confusing, but we’ll do our best to explain.

Let’s start at the beginning. The existing VAT rules for safety boots are due to an exemption from EU VAT laws that the UK has been able to retain since it was already in place before the EU rule came into effect. This exemption, however, was part of a “standstill” agreement, which means that it cannot be rolled out any further or applied to any product it did not previously apply to.

Things only get more complicated from there, because – as stated – safety boots are not exempt of VAT. Safety Boots do , however, have a VAT rate of 0% when they are bought by a person who will be wearing them for work in industrial environments. To be clear, safety boots are only zero-rated if they are bought by the worker who will be wearing them. If they are bought by an employer for an employee, then they will be charged VAT at the standard 20% rate.

Now we come to the reason why only safety boots have a 0% VAT rate and not all protective footwear. The fact is, not all protective footwear is created equal and only those that meet the following five conditions and eligible for the 0% VAT rate.

  • The article must be a boot  
  • They must be manufactured to the appropriate European or British standard
  • They must bear a mark indicating conformity with those standards
  • They must be for industrial use
  • They must not be supplied to persons for use by their employees

As the first condition clearly states ‘the article must be a boot’ and as safety shoes are not boots, they simply cannot not meet the criteria. As if that was pedantic enough, not even all boots are classed as boots, and safety boots must be of a certain size to qualify. As the UK Government website explains:

“The British Standards Institution defines a boot as having a minimum leg height of 90mm measured vertically from the insole at the back. The European Standard gives the minimum height of the upper (measured vertically from the insole at the back) of 103mm for a size 36 (UK 3) and below, through to a minimum height of the upper of 121mm for a size 45 (UK 11) and above.

So, at least for the time being, there is no possibility of expanding the 0% VAT rate so that it can apply to all protective footwear.

Lastly, not all boots that offer protection are classified as safety boots and must meet EN 345:1992, BS EN 345:1993, EN 346:1992 or BS EN 346:1993 standards to qualify. These standards have since been updated and harmonised to the EN ISO 20345:2004 & EN ISO 20346:2004 standards. It is important to note that boots meeting the EN ISO 20347:2004 cannot qualify for the 0% VAT rate. For more information these codes and details on what they mean, give this Guide To Safety Boot Ratings, Codes & Standards by LOWA Military Boots a read.