George Lyon MEP writes…Brave mountain rescue teams should not have to pay VAT on essential, lifesaving kit

We were navigating in near zero visibility in a white-out.

As I was navigating I put my foot out and onto nothing, and fell down about 800ft of sheer cliff.

You figure you have had it.

These are the words of 25 year old Scot Ollie Daniel, who plunged through snow while walking in the Cairngorms in January this year.

In Scotland we are lucky to have some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the world. Walkers and climbers are a common sight in the Highlands and Islands all year round. But we know that these activities are not without risk.

Ollie was rescued after a joint search effort involving Braemar mountain rescue service. He received medical treatment for his injuries and is planning a return to the mountains. But it does not take a massive leap of imagination to see that this could have ended very differently without the courage and professionalism of the local volunteer mountain rescue team.

In 2011 alone almost 600 incidents were responded to by Scottish mountain rescue teams, and these numbers seem to be increasing every year. Mountain and lowland rescue teams are effectively front line emergency services in many parts of Scotland.

These are volunteers who regularly put their lives on the line to help keep people safe. They deserve our full support.

Mountain rescue teams receive financial support from the government at present, and rightly so. But under EU rules, mountain and lowland rescue volunteers still have to pay VAT on essential kit. Axing the VAT for mountain and lowland rescue teams would make a real difference and ensure that the money they are spending is helping save lives, not going to the taxman.

Danny Alexander helped secure extra funds for mountain rescue teams in 2011 to help them pay the VAT bill.  This funding was welcome but we need a permanent solution.

Along with my Lib Dem colleague Chris Davies MEP, I am pressing the European Commission to change tax law to allow member states to exempt mountain and lowland rescue services from VAT. This would bring the rules for these key services into line with those for sea rescue teams, who already have a wide-ranging VAT exemption.

The EU Commission is consulting on public interest exemptions to tax rules at present. Chris and I have already met with the EU Tax Commissioner to make the case for a mountain and lowland rescue exemption. The Commissioner was interested in what we had to say but it is important that we keep the pressure on before the EU consultation closes in April.

I have launched a petition and am calling on people to add their names to a joint submission calling on the EU to axe the VAT for mountain and lowland rescue teams. I hope that as many people as possible will back our campaign to get volunteer rescue services a fair deal on tax.

* George Lyon is Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland and Vice President of the European Budget Committee.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • How would it work? Would they have to keep all their receipts and work out how much VAT to claim back? If so, would it not be less of a burden for them if the government just gave them a bit of extra cash, given that it amounts to the same thing but is less bureaucratic.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Mar '14 - 9:55am

    “In 2011 alone almost 600 incidents were responded to by Scottish mountain rescue teams, and these numbers seem to be increasing every year. ”

    Why is that? Could it be that more and more people are venturing out into the hills without proper equipment and/or understanding of the risks involved?

    It isn’t difficult to find on the web reports of people having to be rescued from hills in Scotland, Snowdonia and the Lake District where the people concerned have not been properly equipped for the walk they were undertaking and have not understood properly the potential for rapid changes in conditions.

    We are told these people were ” were navigating in near zero visibility in a white-out.” WHY? Why, if they could not see where they were going, were they trying to go anywhere at all?

    Advice at includes:

    “Carry equipment for use in an emergency such as a torch, whistle, First Aid Kit and emergency shelter. These items are inexpensive and readily available from all outdoor shops”.

    Did these people not have an emergency shelter to use until the weather improved? Were they yet another bunch of idiots relying on calling up the Mountain Rescue team by mobile phone?

    Shouldn’t Mountain Rescue teams be recovering at least some of their costs from the people they rescue in situations where those people have not been properly equipped and/or not taken the most appropriate action in the prevaling conditions?

  • Is mountain rescue any different (with respect to VAT) to other emergency and rescue services?
    I’m thinking of: RNLI, Air Ambulance etc.

  • Jon Wickham 13th Mar '14 - 2:29pm

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