News Burns Contests Tax On Assistance Dog Foods



Burns contests tax on assistance dog foods
14th May 2019

By Karen Pickwick

A leading dog food manufacturer is contesting a government decision to charge VAT on food for assistance and therapy dogs, which the company says will hit thousands of people who depend on them for physical and mental support.  

HMRC has introduced the changes to its treatment of tax regulations for assistance dog food, which means that these products, which were previously exempt, will now incur VAT.

Tax will be applied with immediate effect to food for guide dogs, service dogs, hearing dogs and therapy dogs, despite the fact that supplies for other working dogs will not be subject to the same changes and will remain zero-rated.

The decision means that thousands of people affected by physical disabilities, developmental disorders and mental health issues, including blindness, hearing impairment, learning difficulties and autism, will see their costs rise.

At present, dog foods in the UK are zero-rated for VAT if they are sold exclusively for working dogs such as farm, sporting dogs and greyhounds. In contrast, the sale of regular domestic pet food is standard-rated, requiring VAT to be paid.

Burns Pet Nutrition, which produces the UK’s only dog food specifically developed for assistance dogs, is contesting the move.


Specially created by veterinary surgeon John Burns, founder of Burns Pet Nutrition, to meet the needs of assistance and therapy dogs, the Burns Alert range includes increased levels of antioxidants and added salmon oil ‘to promote optimum cognitive awareness and a calm temperament’.

But, despite having fallen within the scope of VAT relief for the past 11 years, the company has now been told by HMRC that it must charge VAT on the product range. The Welsh company has now launched an appeal against the taxman to overturn the decision.

John Burns said: “Assistance dogs are a type of working dog, therefore it is unfair that individuals who need support should have to pay VAT when owners of other types of working dogs, such as sporting and gun dogs, are exempt from doing so.

“The new tax penalty demonstrates that HMRC doesn’t recognise the differences between assistance dogs and other types of working dogs. As with other working dogs, assistance dogs have their own specific nutritional needs that are different from regular pets. HMRC looked at our provisions for assistance dogs back in 2011 and were happy then, but now seem to have had a change of heart. We will continue to supply our Burns Alert range without charging VAT pending our appeal.”


Rita Howson, CEO of Support Dogs, which trains dogs to provide support for people with autism, physical disabilities and epilepsy, said: “Thousands of disabled people rely on an assistance dog to help them with day-to-day activities that many people take for granted. Assistance dogs are truly working dogs providing 24/7 care to some of the most vulnerable in society supporting their health, independence and confidence.

“Assistance dogs carry out a huge variety of practical tasks for their owner as well as providing a vital role for the wider society. Their role reduces care costs and increases the physical and mental wellbeing of those they serve, thereby saving UK taxpayers millions each year.

“We have used and had great success with Burns alert dog food for our working assistance dogs for many years. It has been formulated to keep our dogs healthy, calm and alert so as to enable them to work effectively.

“It is unfortunate to learn that our clients will now need to pay extra to keep their dogs fed with food that is designed to meet the very specific needs of their working lives. It really does feel as if those in society who were benefiting most from a tax relief on this are now being discriminated against with no clear explanation why.”