Airport wide boys?

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Arthur English dreesd for his act as a wide boy. Are some airport retailers the new wide boys?

Arthur English dreesd for his act as a wide boy. Are some airport retailers the new wide boys?

Last Saturday, as we mentioned, The Independent ran a story about airport retailers and VAT. Isn’t four days a long time in travel?

Since the story broke, what some thought would be a one-day wonder, has escalated with passengers refusing to show their boarding passes, the Treasury becoming involved by stating that VAT relief at airports was intended to reduce prices for travellers and retailers becoming increasingly concerned by their response.

To remind you, VAT is not liable on goods taken outside the EU. But not all retailers are passing the Vat savings on. Asking for your boarding pass should allow retailers to determine who pays VAT and who doesn’t. If VAT is on a product then by knowing your destination, they can claim the VAT back. The Independent suggests that certain retailers having been doing just that.

As I said on Saturday, it isn’t illegal for retailers to pocket the VAT. But it is distasteful at the very least and borders on the unethical. Fifty years ago, you might have referred to retailers that did this as a bunch of wide boys, those people who sometimes operated within the law and sometimes outside it but were always suspicious.

The story has been picked up by almost every media outlet and retailers have been responding. The BBC quotes W.H Smith as saying that “it would be impossible to have a pricing system which distinguished between travellers to EU and non-EU destinations.”

That is absolute rubbish. If their IT staff can’t come up with a computer programme that allows a 20% discount off items if the traveller is leaving Europe then they deserve sacking and employing people who can. They operate staff discount programmes and this is merely an adaptation. That sort of attitude will get people annoyed and they will go elsewhere. Or they would if they could because there is often no alternative to a newsstand or a chemist at an airport.

There are fashion shops and restaurants galore but WH Smith and Boots tend to have monopolies. Maybe airports should consider letting rivals offer an alternative service so that we travellers can show our dislike of stores that rip us off.

As an alternative, perhaps the Treasury could announce a VAT investigation into retailers that appear to be pocketing the difference. Or better still, a 2% turnover levy( based on one tenth of all passengers might be long-haul and a 2% levy is a tenth of the VAT rate) on airport retailers as a windfall tax which, for example, could be used support rivals  wherever those retailers had a monopoly  That would soon get their  IT systems changed.

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