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Jaffa cake - is it a cake or a biscuit? VAT's the difference

Monday 23 May 2016, There is (surprisingly for some) a National Biscuit Day which this year is on 29th May. It could be seen as the perfect opportunity to celebrate your favourite biscuit, an excuse to over-indulge or perhaps to question how the complexity of the tax code really does take the biscuit. ICAEW examines some of the illogical and complex VAT rules on its favourite biscuits.

Anita Monteith, ICAEW Technical Tax Manager explains:

“VAT is complex and full of anomalies, some of which could save you money. It can be confusing when items are combined. For example, what happens when a standard rated item, such as chocolate, mixes with a zero-rated product such as a plain biscuit? The answer may be an over complicated VAT system, but if you are a savvy shopper you can reap the rewards of these quirky biscuit rules.”

Jaffa cakes – cake or biscuit?

No VAT is charged on plain biscuits or cakes. But when a biscuit is covered in chocolate it becomes a luxury and standard rate VAT at 20% is added to the price. Mcvities, the market leaders for Jaffa Cakes added chocolate to the cake and tangy orange base, so classifying them as cakes, not biscuits. Although the taxman challenged this, claiming chocolate biscuit status,  the court ruled in favour of McVities and we don’t have to pay VAT on our Jaffa Cakes.

Chocolate chip, chocolate digestive or bourbon?

Chocolate chip biscuits where the chips are included in the dough or pressed into the surface before baking are zero-rated. Bourbon and other biscuits with a chocolate sandwich layer between two halves also escape VAT. However, if your biscuit is wholly or partly coated in chocolate then VAT will be added at the standard rate.

Gingerbread men – don’t overdress

Unfortunately, in the biscuit world, not all Gingerbread men are born equal. No VAT is charged for gingerbread with just two chocolate spots for eyes. However, if your gingerbread man is dressed with any chocolate-based additions, such as trousers, 20% VAT will be added.

Anita Monteith adds: “These examples emphasise how complicated the UK tax system can be. It may be only biscuits, but rules like these apply to a number of day to day household goods.”


Media enquiries

Please direct all media inquiries related to this article to:

Kirsty Howe - Media Relations Executive
Tel: +44 (0)20 7920 3514
Email: kirsty.howe@icaew.com