Disability Adaptation Works

The VAT Act allows charities to claim zero-rating on certain works to facilitate disabled persons. It is noted from the outset that the VAT Act is somewhat out of date and is not in line with the obligations of the Disabilities Act. Consequently, VAT zero-rating cannot be claimed on certain works even though they are carried out to comply with the DDA.


In general, the supply to an eligible customer ie the University of any equipment and appliances that have been designed solely for use by disabled people can be zero-rated.
It is not sufficient for zero-rating that the equipment or appliance is merely destined or intended for use by a disabled person, or is mainly purchased by disabled persons. Goods that are designed for general use or for use by disabled and able bodied people alike are not eligible for relief. 

Eligible Refurbishments and Alterations to Existing Buildings

Here the theme is on 'alterations' to facilitate better access. Zero-rating is available under five main headings, the first four are general, meaning even the able bodied can use the improved facility, the final one is specific to disabled users only. 

The scope of the zero-rating covers the contractor’s charge for labour, materials, plant, preliminaries and profit for doing the works. The eligible works cover not just the cost of the alterations but also making good.

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The provision, extension and adaptation of a toilet or washroom will qualify for zero-rating provided that it is used by disabled persons. Restorative work and the provision/restoration of an infrastructure to receive necessary items such as gas, water and electricity will follow the VAT liability of the main supply. 

This can include the creation of wider apertures of electric automatic doors. The proviso is that the aperture is widened as part of the alteration.

Replacing like with like with no resultant widening does not qualify and neither does creation of new doorways or passages.

Adaptations eligible for relief

E.g. hearing loops, hoists and lifters, chair and stair lifts, Braille and tactile signage, and additional low level handles and control panels for using doors, cupboards, elevators etc, on the assumption that only the disabled will use the additional controls. Adaptations to include Braille controls will also qualify.

Additional examples of equipment include the following:

  • Zero-rating applies to some low vision aids including technical aids for reading and writing, which are designed exclusively for disabled persons.
  • Induction loop amplifiers and loops can be zero-rated. Replacement parts and accessories designed solely to be used in the induction loop system are also zero-rated. There is no VAT relief for standard equipment such as microphones, mixers or speakers.
  • Kitchens

Zero-rating is available for existing kitchens for supplies to eligible charities of:

  • equipment 'designed solely for use by a disabled person';
  • the services of installing such items; and
  • the services of adapting goods to suit the condition of a disabled person.

VAT should still be charged on appliances such as cookers, refrigerators, standard kitchen cabinet units and work surfaces.

Zero-rating is applicable to specially designed equipment such as cupboards which are accessible to wheelchair users.

  • Alarm call systems

Zero-rating applies to the supply to the University for making available to disabled persons by sale or otherwise for domestic or their personal use, of an alarm system designed to be capable of operation by a disabled person if they require immediate assistance in the case of illness, injury or similar emergency, and to enable them to alert directly a specified person or a control centre.

The alarm system must have some operational feature special to the needs of the disabled persons, such as a button that can be pressed as an emergency buzzer. It must link the disabled person to either a control centre or to other specified persons who will be able to help in the event of an emergency. The zero-rating does not extend to specialist emergency services for the general public, even if they may benefit a disabled person.

  • Alarms

A supply of ordinary alarms, and alarms which activate lights, will not ordinarily qualify for zero-rating. However, if ordinary alarms are adapted to include lights for use specifically by deaf people, then this adaptation may qualify for zero-rating. Assuming for example, that strobe lights are installed to supplement the existing sounders, this would indicate adaptation.

Internal communications systems do not generally qualify for zero-rating. If however, a pager that has been adapted so that it alerts the disabled person when alarms ring, and other products that are specifically manufactured/adapted and marketed for the use of disabled persons, then such goods should qualify.

  • Computer equipment

Where a computer system contains software which has been designed solely for the use of a specific disabled person as a tool to enable them to overcome communication problems, and is supplied to the University to make available by sale or otherwise to that person or to a specific group of disabled people for their domestic or personal use, then the software will be eligible for zero rating.

In addition, the central processor of such a computer will also qualify for zero rating if it has software installed which enables a disabled person to use the computer system or other software effectively, or to carry out tasks effectively when otherwise they could not.

It is our opinion that the definition of software as a tool to enable a disabled person to overcome communication problems has a wide meaning and includes the following items: speech synthesiser, Braille embosser, specialist software, installation and training.

Specialist suppliers will have the option of charging VAT according to the liability of the individual components or charging a composite VAT rate for the entire package based on the total VAT liability of their supplies over a given period.

What is not eligible for VAT relief
  • The professional services fees of consultants, architects, project managers when separately contracted. However, if these professionals are agreeable to being employed by the main contractor, the subsuming of their fees within the price for the works will follow the same VAT status of the overall project.
  • DIY installation. If the University uses its own labour or estates department to do the works, then the purchase of materials only and the hire of plant without operators is standard-rated.

Examples of work which may take place to comply with the DDA, which are not eligible for zero-rating include the following:

  • visual alarms to fire shutters; and alarms;
  • room size alterations, unless the existing room is a passage to another existing room and is specifically widened to provide through access;
  • contrast paintwork to steps, doorways etc;
  • signage other than Braille;
  • disabled car parking;
  • purpose built low height furniture;
  • vision panels fitted to existing doors;
  • showers and baths;
  • audible warnings to appliances;
  • lighting improvements; and
  • surface temperature regulators for radiators (unless incidental to the construction of a disabled persons toilet).

There is nothing specific on uneven floor corrections or floor materials, unless this is incidental to the creation of the ramp or alteration of the slope. The adjustment of a gradient will not qualify for zero-rating, however the provision of the service of creating a slope or reducing an incline do specifically qualify for zero-rating as the construction of a ramp. 
Included within the zero-rating for the construction of ramps or widening of doors or passages are the following:

  • any preparatory work or making good of surrounding areas including the removal of bricks and mortar;
  • the installation of a new frame and surround;
  • the supply and fitting of a wider door;
  • the re-plastering of the wall adjacent to the new work; and
  • the restoration of damaged décor.

There are generally no reliefs available for the construction of a new DDA compliant building. However zero-rating is limited to the new provisions of disabled toilets, ramps and new lifts specifically for the disabled. For these you should work out the floor area cost plus specialist plant to quantify the zero-rated element of the new building.

It should be noted that the construction of new doorways and passages does not fall within zero-rating and the concession only applies to widening existing doorways and passages.

The University needs to give the contractor doing the works a VAT certificate upon ordering the works. The certificate confirms charitable status and requests the contractor to zero-rate the value of the disability works. A different certificate has to be used for disabled equipment purchases.

The onus on getting the VAT correct is a joint one. The University needs to be careful it is only claiming zero-rating on eligible works, meanwhile the contractor is expected to do their own checks to ensure the values and works are appropriately zero-rateable.


For further information and specific advice please contact the Tax Team.



Contact Us

 : Finance Division
       University of Oxford
       23-38 Hythe Bridge Street
       Oxford OX1 2JD

  : vatenquiries@admin.ox.ac.uk

  : 01865 (6) 16215


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