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Dog grooming tuition - exempt from VAT?
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VAT: Rough justice at dog grooming school


The case of Dogs Delight (TC08380) concerned the VAT exemption for private tuition and whether it should apply to the teaching of dog grooming. 

25th Feb 2022
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The VAT exemption for private tuition hangs on whether the subject being taught is a subject “ordinarily taught in a school or university”. There have been several cases over the years ranging from belly dancing (Cheruvier TC3148) through to martial arts.

Teaching new tricks

The taxpayer in this case was originally registered for VAT, but wrote to HMRC in December 2017 to advise it wanted to de-register on the basis the majority of sales were exempt under private tuition rules and referred to a competitor who had obtained a ruling from HMRC as the basis to deregister.  The business was a City & Guilds-approved centre for training and the courses were equivalent of GCSE and AS/A level equivalents.

HMRC visited and reviewed the business and in September 2018 confirmed the deregistration with effect from December 2017.

In October 2018, the taxpayer submitted a retrospective claim for £102,301 relating VAT charged on what were now confirmed as exempt supplies.

July 2019, HMRC wrote to the taxpayer and stated that despite agreeing the deregistration, HMRC had changed its mind and the supplies were standard rated. HMRC also reinstated the VAT registration, albeit from April 2019.

The business appealed to HMRC and supplied significant evidence that its courses are genuine, lead to a recognised qualification and that the subject was “ordinarily taught in a school or university”.


Private tuition of a subject ordinarily taught in a school or university can be an exempt supply.  Private tuition means teaching by a sole trader or partnership; it can’t apply to a limited company. HMRC Notice 701/30 section 6 explains in more detail.   

Four legs

The first tier tribunal (FTT) examined four arguments.

 1.  HMRC argued the course was recreational in nature. This argument failed, as the FTT was satisfied that the students were working towards a recognised qualification. While dog grooming may be seen as a recreational activity, it was not the case here.

2.  The taxpayer noted the definition of “ordinarily taught in schools and universities” extends to further education colleges (VATEDU40200). The taxpayer was working with City & Guilds/FEDCs and then FECs, which fall into the definition of “schools or universities”.  The tribunal agreed.

3.  The subject has to be “ordinarily” taught in a school or university. The taxpayer had identified that 88 out of 293 colleges (30%) offered qualifications in dog grooming. In addition, the National Careers Service identifies 87 dog grooming courses as a “bone(a) fide” career/qualification.

4. HMRC argued that the same national careers website offers 251 Pilates courses and Pilates has been established as not being a subject ordinarily taught in a school or university. This thus the website was not indicative of confirming exemption.

FTT decision

The tribunal panel sided with HMRC, and stated in their summary: “We can certainly see the force in the argument that dog grooming is commonly taught in further education colleges in England. However, that is not the test. The test is whether dog grooming is ordinarily taught in a school or university which we take to mean that the relevant activity must be taught at a wide number of schools or universities in the EU.

“We were provided with no evidence that dog grooming is taught in the United Kingdom anywhere other than certain Further Education Colleges in England, and we were provided with no evidence at all about the position in other member states. The appellant has not met the burden of proving that dog grooming is taught in a wide number of schools or universities in the EU.”

Tail turned

The FTT also noted that while it was unfair for HMRC to change its mind about the exemption for dog grooming courses, the tribunal had no “fairness” jurisdiction.

It is interesting that the FTT was not satisfied that 30% was common enough to be ordinarily taught in schools and universities. It may be that 30% isn’t enough by any measure, what would be sufficient, 50% or more than half? 

That the FTT also sought to dilute the 30% by indicating the test was to cover the whole of the EU (at the time when UK was in the EU) as well as the whole of the United Kingdom, not just England.  That narrows the definition of “ordinary” quite substantially. 

Howling mistake?

The case evidences that the private tuition exemption is tight. It does not maintain pace with the changing educational tastes of the modern age.

Also, even where HMRC has agreed to deregister a business and confirmed the VAT status as exempt, that does not seem to stop HMRC from having another bite at the cherry. 

I think the taxpayer got a “ruff” deal here.

Replies (7)

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
26th Feb 2022 07:23

One would assume that if they had not submitted a retrospective claim and thereby encouraging HMRC to look more closely they would still not be registered for VAT today which would have more than made up for losing the retrospective amount.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Winnie Wiggleroom:
By Wanderer
26th Feb 2022 12:59

Totally agree however it would be a tough call for an adviser.

The claim was made following an HMRC visit when they were in possession of the relevant facts.

If an adviser had told the Appellant not to bother with the claim it would so easily have left them open to a negligence claim.

Thanks (2)
paddle steamer
28th Feb 2022 14:51

I appreciate they extend the "University" definition to further education, but frankly the mind boggles at a degree (or lesser academic qualification for that matter) in just dog grooming.

If dog grooming was merely a small part of a course in say animal welfare I think I could recognise such a broader course as containing some academic rigour warranting FE study, but if it is the entire focus of some course then case frankly I cannot regonise studying to learn how to use a brush as a real course in anything!!!!!!

Thanks (2)
By More unearned luck
28th Feb 2022 15:28

Shouldn't the headline be 'VAT: Ruff justice at dog grooming school'?

Thanks (2)
By Paul Crowley
28th Feb 2022 17:52

Sorry Jason
I would be with HMRC on this
No school ever taught dog grooming as an academic subject

The exemption was not really intended for recreational or hobby courses

Thanks (3)
By Sonia_vat
08th Apr 2022 10:36

I think this is unfair, the fact that you are unable to even be considered if you are a limited company, is silly!
I’d imagine dog grooming is like hairdressing…is hairdressing training exempt? I don’t think I’d just pick up the scissors and start cutting trimming a dog or cat. Training would be required to prevent harm to the animal!
Plus I always think its worth a punt of arguing these points. Challenging the law, makes decision making easier in the future. I’d thought challenging for the osteopathy training of animals, but on the back of this, decide against, as it hits the first hurdle of the limited company!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Sonia_vat:
By More unearned luck
11th Apr 2022 11:31

The exemption is aimed at those providing private tuition to schoolchildren. It seems reasonable that exemption does not extent to cases where someone else (eg an employee) is providing the tuition and not the taxpayer. The other main criterion is that the subject must be one that is ordinarily taught in schools, not one similar to one ordinally taught in schools, even if hairdressing was such a subject.

But generally it is unrealistic to expect tax should be fair and sensible.

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