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Airport VAT ruse: airport shops will no longer force passengers to hand over boarding passes at tills

WHSmith, Boots and Dixons have been "reminding" their staff that they cannot force customers to show their airport boarding passes amid outrage at VAT savings not being passed on.

Labour MP Chris Bryant and Dragon’s Den presenter Duncan Bannatyne are among the thousands of airport passengers vowing to refuse to hand over the documents in an effort to prevent retailers making millions of pounds.

The practice, where stores demand that passengers present their boarding cards at checkouts before paying for any goods, is used by stores to avoid paying 20% VAT on goods they sell to passengers who are travelling outside the EU.

Many people have said they assumed that showing boarding passes was a security precaution or compulsory, and that the rules had never been explained.

David Gauke, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, told The Independent some of the UK's most trusted shops were pocketing VAT discounts at airports without passing the savings on to customers.

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Speaking to the Independent, he said: "The VAT relief at airports is intended to reduce prices for travellers, not as a windfall gain for shops.

"While many retailers do pass this saving on to customers, it is disappointing that some are choosing not to. We urge all airside retailers to use this relief for the benefit of their customers."

The revelation prompted outrage among customers, prompting retailers to remind their staff that people must still be served if they refuse to hand over boarding passes.

Some air travellers have reported difficulty making purchases if they refuse requests for the document at check-outs, with some shops reportedly refusing to serve them.

A spokesperson for WHSmith said: "We have reminded all staff of our policy; that boarding passes should be requested and not demanded, such that there is no obligation on the part of the customer."

Sources at Boots and Dixons said that staff are being reminded that viewing boarding passes is not compulsory.

Dixons has spoken to all staff members at British airports to remind them customers are not obliged to hand over the cards and has issued new guidance within the last day, the newspaper reported.

A source at Boots said its employees would be “reminded that it’s not a requirement to see the customer’s boarding pass for them to shop with us”.

A spokesperson for Boots previously said: “We are claiming back VAT on a proportion of purchases made by customers flying to non-EU destinations in accordance with current VAT rules set by the HMRC.”


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