VAT for Cosmetic Procedures in UK

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Cosmetic surgeries are burgeoning everywhere—this once considered an unconventional means of improving one’s appearance has now gone mainstream and generally accepted by people in many different parts of the world. Simply put, a person who is not contented with his or her physical features, someone with a physical disability which can be corrected by such procedures, or even a person whose signs of aging are can have these unwanted features or deformities remedied.

Because of the increasing rise of patients undergoing cosmetic surgery, legislators in the UK have introduced VAT guidelines which will impose value added tax to the costs of cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgeons will now have to register for VAT, in which the amount will be added to the patient’s bill. The concept of VAT is similar to the US Sales Tax.

As per the HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), the VAT for cosmetic surgeries is not a new law, rather a clarification and amendment to the existing laws. Guidelines have also been given to relevant professionals of the said industry.

People from the cosmetic surgery industry refer to this move as the “Boob Tax”, and according to them, this will mean an additional $780 million in government revenue annually. This, like many other tax regulations, is a means of the government to reduce and equalize its deficits. As of this date, VAT is imposed only on botox treatments, chemical peels and minor treatments in beauty salons. A normal breast augmentation procedure is expected to rise to as much as $1,000. However, if the procedures are not for cosmetic rather for therapeutic purposes, the procedures can be exempt from VAT.

According to several UK authorities, “…cosmetic services which are performed mainly for beautification or rejuvenation purposes, or done out of the individual’s free choice rather than out of medical necessity, are liable to VAT at the standard rate. Such services may include: face lifts, tummy tucks, female breast enlargement, liposuction, hair and tattoo removal using lasers and intense pulse light source machines.”

Furthermore, the exemption from VAT does not apply to people who will undergo procedures just so they can feel good about themselves. In defense of the cosmetic surgery trade, British Association of Aesthetic Surgeons President Dr. Fazel Fatah said: “The subjective proposals being put forward by HMRC will potentially harm large numbers of patients. They imply that, by definition, any procedure that corrects appearance rather than function is not a medical need. There has been no meaningful discussion with the professional bodies involved.

We can only hope that common ground can be found that protects the wellbeing of patients while balancing the obvious need to increase tax revenues. With surgery, we are dealing with human lives.”

Many plastic surgeons are expressing their concern over the difficulty of ascertaining whether a certain procedure is purely aesthetic or good enough to be therapeutic. One situation presented is when the breasts of a woman are asymmetrical. Experts asked to what extent should the asymmetry be in order for the surgery to be dubbed as therapeutic? The same also goes for kids who are subject to surgery for prominent ears.




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