Press Release

New Code of Practice to ensure greater transparency on how customers benefit from VAT relief in airport shops

22 September 2016

London: The Airport Operators Association (AOA) and the UK Travel Retail Forum (UKTRF) have today launched a Code of Practice (CoP) for Airport Retailers to ensure greater transparency on how customers benefit from the VAT relief concession for airport retailers.

The industry-wide set of guidelines will give clarity to customers by requiring airport retailers to:

  • Provide a clear explanation to all customers on how the VAT benefit is used and on when and why customers are required to present boarding passes
  • Report to the UKTRF on how they implement the Code.

The guidelines enshrine current best practice on VAT relief in airports and will be set out in-store and online.

Retailers who have signed up to the Code of Practice will report to the UK Travel Retail Forum (UKTRF) on how they implement the Code. The initiative is endorsed by UK airports, who will facilitate additional customer enquiries about the code.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the AOA said: “AOA member airports are determined to ensure that passengers have an excellent experience from the moment they arrive at the airport to the moment they leave. We have worked closely with airport partners and retailers to improve information and transparency about how the retailers apply the VAT relief concession, ensuring travellers can continue to shop at UK airports confident in the knowledge that they are getting a great deal.

Sarah Branquinho, Chair of the UKTRF said: “Our members have an exemplary record of compliance with HM Revenue & Customs laws, Advertising Standards Authority guidelines and Trading Standards Authority consumer legislation, but the Code of Practice will go one step further in ensuring transparency and consumer trust. This new measure will help ensure that customers know that the savings resulting from the VAT relief concession are passed on to them.”


  1. Since June 1999, sales of goods to shoppers travelling within the EU have been liable for VAT and excise duty. The tax-free status of sales only remains for travellers to destinations outside the EU. In most UK airports, only a small minority of passengers are travelling outside the EU.
  2. Many retailers adapted their pricing policy following the abolition of tax- and duty-free sales in 1999 to continue to offer lower prices to travellers, particularly the majority of British passengers flying to EU destinations who would have faced having VAT added to the cost of their purchases.
  3. In December 2015, HMRC commenced a review into airside VAT-free shopping. The Code of Practice has been designed to ensure that passengers can continue to shop at the airport secure in the knowledge that they are getting a great deal regardless of where they are travelling to.

Airport Retailer categories: how VAT benefit is returned to the customer

Non participants
These retailers do not operate the VAT relief concession and charge customers VAT in the same way as any other store in the UK. These retailers will not ask for boarding cards.

Direct benefit
These retailers sell at a VAT inclusive and a VAT exclusive price for customers who are travelling inside and outside the EU respectively. Hence the price paid by someone travelling outside the EU will be reduced by the VAT that would otherwise be charged. Only customers showing a boarding card for a non-EU destination will be entitled to the lower price and hence benefit from the relief.

Shared benefit
These retailers will have a single price for EU and non-EU travellers* and will recycle the VAT benefit into lower prices for all customers, which may require customers to show their boarding passes to identify qualifying sales. Retailers should make it clear to passengers whether this is an HMRC requirement (as part of an official agreement) or their own operating requirement. In all cases, the retailer will have signage in-store and on their website showing how the VAT benefit is being reflected in prices.
*With the exception of some liquor & tobacco products.

Retailers that have signed the Code of Practice represent between 75% and 100% of retail sales at UK airports. To date they include:

  • Aelia
  • Aspinal of London
  • Attitude
  • Biza
  • Bobbi Brown
  • Boots
  • Bvlgari
  • Cath Kidston
  • Collection
  • Dixons Travel
  • Dune
  • Duty Free Store
  • Fat Face
  • Fortnum & Mason
  • Glorious Britain
  • Harrods
  • Hema
  • Hermes
  • Jo Malone
  • Lacoste
  • Lagardere
  • MAC
  • Nuance
  • Parfois
  • Reiss
  • Rituals
  • Samsonite
  • Sunglasses Boutique
  • Ted Baker
  • Temptation
  • Thinking Scotland
  • Thomas Pink
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Watches of Switzerland
  • WH Smith
  • William & Henry
  • World Duty Free
  • World of Whiskies
  • Zoodle

Press Contact

Hume Brophy for UKTRF
John Hume, Managing Partner
Mob: +353 (0)86 851 5478
Tel: +44 (0)20 7862 6399
Airport Operators Association
Henk van Klaveren, Public Affairs and PR Manager
Tel. +44 (0)20 7799 3171