We're calling for unfair tax on accessible books to be scrapped

Posted: 
1 November 2019
From left to right, in front of 11 Downing Street: Eleanor Thompson, RNIB Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Jonathan Douglas, CEO of the National Literacy Trust, Konnie Huq, children’s author and ex-Blue Peter presenter, Robert Halfon MP.

RNIB’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Eleanor Thompson discusses the Axe the Reading Tax campaign and how people using digital publications like eBooks or audiobooks are currently being charged more than those who read printed books.  

This week I was lucky enough to go to Downing Street with the Children’s author and ex-Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq, to ask the Chancellor to cut the tax that applies to books in some accessible formats.

Ever since the UK’s VAT regime was established in the 1970s, printed books, magazines and newspapers have been VAT exempt. This is because it was recognised that books and knowledge were essential to people’s lives and therefore applying a tax on reading would be unfair and inappropriate.

However, unlike print editions, digital publications like eBooks and audiobooks are subject to VAT, adding 20% to the price of publications in these formats. The Axe the Reading Tax campaign, led by the Publishers Association, is pushing to change this and create a fairer system for people who read in these formats.

Along with Konnie, I was joined by Robert Halfon MP, Andrew Lewer MP, and representatives from the National Literacy Trust and the Publishers Association to present the letter calling for the tax cut, which was signed by 90 MPs from across the political spectrum. Rather than the famous front door of the PM, we knocked on that of his neighbour, the Chancellor, whose official residence is at number 11.

Konnie said it was “fantastic” to be in Downing Street to hand in the letter. She added “as both an author and a mum I know how important it is for children to grow up reading, regardless of whether this is on paper or screen.”

At the moment, only around ten per cent of all titles are available to blind and partially sighted people in a format they can access and so I was delighted to be there on behalf of RNIB to push for change and, hopefully, increase access to inclusive formats. eReaders and audiobooks allow people with sight loss to enjoy their favourite books just like everybody else and they should not be charged 20 percent more for this.

If you’d like to sign up to support the Axe the Reading Tax campaign please visit https://www.axethereadingtax.org/.

While we wait for changes in the law, don’t forget to search RNIB’s Library of over 60,000 titles to see whether your book is available online and for free here.