Nip And Tax: Is It Fair To Put VAT On Cosmetic Surgery?

21/10/2011 13:04 | Updated 22 May 2015

It doesn't seem very often anyone comes up with an absolutely brand new thing to tax – because, of course, almost everything is taxed already. But when the plan to levy VAT on boob jobs, facelifts and other cosmetic procedures was revealed – a move which could apparently raise £500m per year for the Treasury – I gave an inward whoop of joy.

I guess that's because, despite my small-even-before-being-baby-ravaged mammaries and slightly-lopsided-and-from-some-angles-too-large-nose, it has not crossed my mind to undergo any such procedures. At a time when cosmetic surgery is booming, it's like free money for the un-vain. Naturally though, as always follows the announcement of a taxation change, people have started butting horns over the fairness of it.

HM Revenue and Customs' new guidance states: "The mere fact that a cosmetic treatment may make a person feel more confident about their appearance is not in itself sufficient to make the treatment exempt... Those with [proven] psychological conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder or those having plastic surgery disfigurement will not be affected by the proposal."

Chloe Sims of The Only Way Is Essex fame at the TV Choice Awards earlier this year. Photo:PA

And here we enter the 'grey area'. According to many (some quite furious) industry professionals, defining how much a person 'needs' to be physically enhanced could be tricky. Consultant plastic surgeon Douglas McGeorge has offered up prominent ears, asymmetrical boobs and large noses as examples where the lives of individuals could be greatly improved with correction.

I agree – it's hard to argue with the fact that people are discriminated against on the basis of what they look like and HMRC's advice that "each case will need to be considered on its individual merits" could cause a headache. However, I don't think it is going to be THAT hard to distinguish between the meaningful and meaningless.

A case in point, the already cosmetically-enhanced Chloe Sims from The Only Way is Essex (pictured) revealing she is getting buttock implants because she believes she must have "the flattest arse" in the county. She just doesn't like her bum (partly because it doesn't match her fake boobs). Why shouldn't she pay VAT on the luxury of a new Jay-Lo-esque posterior? We all (perhaps TOWIE's stars more than most) spend millions of quid a year on cosmetics and pay VAT on those and they are all means to the same end. We pay VAT on clothes for pity's sake – hardly a luxury, are they?

I have loved some of the revealing comments. Imogen Thomas (you know, former Big Brother contestant – pretty, had a boob job) said: "I don't like the idea of the government paying off debt with money from cosmetic surgery. It penalises people who want to better themselves."

Better themselves, eh? Interesting choice of words. What about the people who genuinely want to better themselves by gaining a higher education degree, but will never be able to afford to do so?

Meanwhile, Sky News presenter Kay Burley (who recently admitted to having a facelift) believes the idea is an "attack on women". Lord knows, women do feel like they are being attacked enough by the government at the moment – but being asked to pay tax on cosmetic surgery is not even in the same ball park.

If anything, women should be kicking and screaming to force changes in a society that puts them under such huge pressure to prolong their youthful looks, to be aesthetically 'perfect'. That's the bigger argument really. But for the time being, if taxing vanity-driven cosmetic surgery tops up the coffers, it's alright by me.

By Pip Jones


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