Museums and galleries urged to join VAT Refund Scheme - Museums Association

Museums and galleries urged to join VAT Refund Scheme

Initiative has provided sector with up to £1bn since it was created in 2001
The Wellcome Collection joined the VAT Refund Scheme in 2020
The Wellcome Collection joined the VAT Refund Scheme in 2020 Wellcome Images

Museums and galleries are being encouraged to sign up to a new round of the VAT Refund Scheme, which opens this autumn.

The UK-wide scheme, which has been running since 2001, supports venues to provide free entry. It is estimated that museums and galleries that were added to the scheme in 2020 will benefit from more than £70m in VAT refunds in the six years after joining.

Venues that joined the scheme in 2020 include the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge; London's Wellcome Collection; and the Royal Scots Regimental Museum and the National War Museum, which are both in Edinburgh Castle.

“This scheme has been hugely valuable to many museums offering free entry in the past 20 years, and this is the first time it has been open to new applications since 2018,” said Alistair Brown the policy manager at the Museums Association. “It is particularly timely given the financial strains caused by the cost-of-living crisis, so I’d really encourage museums to consider applying.”

The full criteria for a museum and gallery applying are:

  • being open to the general public for at least 30 hours per week, without exception;
  • offering free entry without prior appointment;
  • holding collections in a purpose-built building;
  • displaying details of free entry and opening hours on the museum website.

Institutions taking part in the scheme are entitled to a refund on VAT incurred on goods and services that are purchased in order to provide free admission. A total of 159 sites across the UK currently benefit from the scheme.

Between 2001 and 2022, the total amount of VAT refunds issued to museums and galleries under the VAT Act 1994, is estimated to have been as much as £1bn. This is based on HMRC VAT returns and assessments of the proportion of non-business activities.

More information about the scheme can be found here.

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