Burying Bad News: VAT on Swimming, Gyms in 2013

Back in 2001, an aide to Tony Blair’s Labour UK government got into serious bother when, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, she emailed colleagues, saying “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”

I’m wondering has someone in Revenue been thinking likewise this morning.

With Budget 2013 only hours away, a Revenue eBrief has confirmed that VAT will be charged on public or community swimming pools, gyms and other sports & leisure facilities with effect from 1 January 2013.

This means that if you decide to improve your state of health, get fit, or lose weight by swimming or visiting a local gym in the New Year, you will now be charged VAT for the privilege.

Gym exercise

It also means that children (including children with special needs) will also be charged VAT on swimming lessons, physical education, summer camps and similar activities in public facilities.

The updated Revenue VAT manual confirms that VAT will apply to

“Facilities for taking part in sporting or physical education activities (including) premises used, designed or adapted for taking part in sporting or physical education activities, such as, swimming pools, gymnasiums, leisure centres, bowling alleys, driving ranges together with lands let for fishing and shooting and outdoor centres that cater for water and adventure activities”

The rate of VAT to be charged is 9%. A whopping 23% will apply to related services (equipment hire etc) when these are subject to a separate charge.

This being Budget Day, this cruel VAT charge will go largely unnoticed, as we all inevitably focus on the various tax and public spending measures in the Budget.  Therefore the clever timing of the announcement is set to insulate both Government and Revenue from a storm of protest that might otherwise have engulfed them.

It still pays to bury bad news.


  1. Hi, our non profit swimming club was given notification of this VAT charge this evening. We will have to pay 9% VAT on top of our cost of pool hire. This is an absolute disgrace, a small club like ours cannot absorb this extra cost and will have to pass it onto our club members with an increase in their monthly fees. This extra charge will have a knock on effect which will cause us to loose members…and therefore reduced use of pool etc. I really cant understand why the government have put this extra cost onto children sport in particular. With the increased awareness around poor fitness levels in primary and secondary school, the high rate of childhood obesity in this country, they should be encouraging families to keep their children active in a wide range of sports and physical activities not penalizing them.

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