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Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell hails abolition of ‘reading tax’

The current rate of 20% will no longer apply as of December 1.

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How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell welcomed the move (PA)

How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell welcomed the move (PA)

How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell welcomed the move (PA)

Author Cressida Cowell has said the Government’s abolition of the so-called “reading tax” is a “celebratory moment”.

The Children’s Laureate, famous for her books including the How To Train Your Dragon series, was among the people welcoming the news from Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Mr Sunak, who made the announcement as he delivered the Budget, said that VAT on digital publications, including books, newspapers, magazines and academic journals, will be scrapped from December 1.

In a statement, Cowell said: “I’ve been proud to support the Axe the Reading Tax campaign, and I’m delighted that the government has now removed the tax on ebooks. This is a celebratory moment, particularly for those with disabilities and children just discovering the joy of reading.

“Research shows that if you are reading for the joy of it you’re likely to be happier, healthier, more likely to vote and more likely to own your own home – and this applies across all social classes. These are powerful, measurable real-life benefits that transform lives, and the removal of this tax will have a positive impact on many children.”

The Publishers Association, whose Axe The Reading Tax campaign has called for the removal of the “illogical and unfair” VAT on all digital publications, also celebrated Mr Sunak’s announcement.

The organisation’s chief executive, Stephen Lotinga, told the PA news agency: “We’re absolutely delighted. We’ve been saying to the Government and Parliament more widely for some time that we felt that this tax made no sense and that it unfairly discriminated against, well, everybody, but particularly those who are very reliant on digital books – either because they choose to because it’s convenient or in some cases because of disabilities.

“So we’re really pleased the Government listened and has taken action today.”

The official Axe The Reading Tax Twitter account posted: “We are thrilled that VAT will be removed from e-publications following the new Budget. This will mark an end to illogically taxing people who need or prefer to read digitally.

“Thank you so much to all the authors, organisations, parliamentarians and members of the public who called on the Chancellor to remove this 20% tax that acts as a barrier to literacy and discriminates against people who struggle to use or handle printed books.”

Mr Sunak’s announcement was met with cheers as he stated in Parliament that: “A world class education will help the next generation thrive and nothing could be more fundamental to that than reading. And yet digital publications are subject to VAT. That can’t be right.”

He continued: “There will be no VAT on historical fiction by Hilary Mantel, manuals or textbooks like Gray’s Anatomy, or indeed works of fantasy like John McDonnell’s Economics For The Many.”

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Premiere – London
Cressida Cowell, author of the How To Train Your Dragon books, has said the scrapping of the reading tax is a ‘celebratory moment’ (PA)

Books and newspapers have been exempt from VAT since the introduction of the tax in 1973.

In 2018, the European Union passed legislation that allowed its member states to remove or to apply lower VAT to electronic publications.

France, Italy, Belgium and Iceland were among those who agreed they would lower taxes but the UK did not follow suit, with readers continuing to pay 20% VAT on digital publications.

In February TV star and writer Stephen Fry, former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, Fifty Shades Of Grey author EL James and leading crime writer Val McDermid backed a campaign calling for it to be removed.

They were joined by nearly 700 leading writers in sending a letter to then-chancellor Sajid Javid, claiming the current rate of 20% could stop “young readers, those from low income backgrounds, and those who struggle to read print from experiencing the joys of reading”.

The letter, sent to The Sunday Times, also said: “Reading is one of the greatest pleasures there is. Books are a passport to other worlds, to other ways of life. They help people develop empathy, offer comfort, inspire and challenge.

“It is vital that everybody can access the joy and opportunity of reading; regardless of their age, income or physical capability.”

PA