Letter to Chancellor: VAT rate on motorcycle air vests

Posted on 16/11/23 |

Dear Chancellor,

RE: VAT rate on motorcycle air vests

I am writing to ask you to consider removing the 20% VAT rate which is currently levied on the sale of motorcycle air vests.

As you may be aware IAM RoadSmart is the UK’s largest road safety charity with around 75,000 members – of which just under 40,000 are motorcyclists.  In 2022/23, we delivered 3,282 advanced driver and advanced rider tests with an 87% pass rate and completed 3,478 drink driving awareness courses to make our roads safer.

In 2022, Motorcycles made up 3.5% of all licenced vehicle types yet riders represented a fifth (21%) of all fatalities and 12.5% of all casualties on our roads.

Like other forms of PPE, motorcycle helmets benefit from a zero VAT rate due to their essential role in saving lives and there is increasing evidence to suggest that motorcycle air vests have a similar impact on road safety:

  • Air vests provide protection to the neck, spine, chest and internal organs. Evidence suggests that an air vest offers more than 50 times the protection of standard back protectors.
  • Market analysis conducted by one of the UK’s leading air jacket distributors, Helite UK, has revealed that, of the 1.4 million UK motorcyclists who ride regularly, as little as 1-in-25 motorcyclists own an air jacket. Motorcycle usage has risen by 4% in recent years, meaning that potentially thousands more new riders are not being protected.
  • According to the Government’s own data (RAS4001), the total cost of fatal road collisions in 2022 was £4.7bn, of which motorcyclists make up around £800m. Moreover, the total cost of collisions of all severities in the UK is around £43bn.
  • The OECD estimated that in 2019, road crashes cost the equivalent of 1.5% of UK GDP.
  • Research commissioned by IAM RoadSmart of over 500 motorcyclists found that nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of riders stated that the cost of motorcycle air vests has prevented them from purchasing safety wear. 70% of the riders surveyed thought that the government should make PPE more affordable.

There is a petition calling for VAT exemption on air vests which has so far attracted just under 5,000 signatories in a month. The campaign also has the support of the National Motorcyclists Council and a number of MPs who have highlighted the campaign.

With good quality motorcycle air vests costing from around £400 upwards, we believe scrapping VAT on these items will not only reduce the cost but will also increase their use. While we understand you have many issues ahead of this year’s Autumn Statement, we believe that by cutting VAT on these items, the Treasury will not only be saving riders’ lives but will also save money by increasing their uptake and reducing the cost to the emergency services. We would urge you to help make advancements in safety equipment more accessible to all riders by scrapping VAT on this such life-saving product at the earliest possible opportunity.

My colleague Nicholas Lyes (Policy and Standards Director) and myself are very happy to pick this up with you and your officials to discuss it further.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely

 Antony Kildare
Chief Executive Officer

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