Oireachtas Chairman calls for end to VAT refunds on below-cost alcohol

A recent presentation by the National Off-Licence Association has caused The Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children Jerry Buttimer TD to call for immediate action to prevent VAT being reclaimed by retailers selling alcohol below cost-price.

“The National Off-Licence Association informed the committee that when alcohol is sold below cost-price the retailer is entitled to a refund of the VAT differential,” he stated, “In effect, the Government and taxpayers are subsidising those large retailers who can afford to sell alcohol below cost-price.”

The Committee heard that the retailers can claim a VAT refund on the difference between the cost price and the actual below cost sale price.

“This cannot be permitted to continue,” stressed the Chairman, “We need to immediately address this anomaly as it flies in the face of Government policy.  At a recent meeting of the Health Committee Minister of State Roisin Shortall TD confirmed that she wanted to tackle the issue of alcohol pricing. Yet we have tax refunds which facilitate below-cost selling. We must have a consistent policy approach. The taxation system should not be an obstruction to Government policy objectives – it should facilitate the attainment of Government’s policy aims.”

The National Off-licence Association of Ireland (NOffLA) also called on Government to put an end to voluntary codes of practice for the retail and marketing of alcohol in Ireland.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, NOffLA Chairperson Evelyn Jones said, “Voluntary codes of practice do not work for the retail and marketing of alcohol as they are not being used by some retailers in the spirit for which they were intended.

“Across Ireland, we see evidence of alcohol being sold in stores beside confectionery, snacks and magazines which is a direct target on young people. The newspapers are awash with cut-price and volume deals of alcohol as the large retailers use alcohol to compete for their grocery market share.

“It is clear that voluntary codes of practice are not suitable vehicles for alcohol control.”

NOffLA is calling for legislation which currently exists and was specifically-drafted in 2008 to deal with the ill-effects of irresponsible alcohol sales and marketing, namely Sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act (2008), to be enacted.
Section 9 provides for the structural separation of alcohol products from other products in supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol stations and any other licenced premises which are deemed to be mixed-trading.

Section 16 makes provision for prohibiting or restricting the use of alcohol as a promotional tool in advertising.

At the time of the enactment of this legislation the then Minister for Justice deferred both sections and permitted a voluntary code of practice instead.

“Alcohol is not like other products” Evelyn Jones told the Oireachtas hearing, “Its purchase should be conscious, no matter what age you are.”

She added that the “clever insertion of phrases into voluntary codes such as ‘as far as possible’ negate their proposed intention and allow for constant irresponsible manipulation of the display and sale of alcohol in Ireland”.

NOffLA also reiterated calls for mandatory ID regardless of age and mandatory training for any person retailing alcohol.
The Committee Chairman Jerry Buttimer concluded, “The Committee will continue, over the coming weeks, to focus and prioritise the issues of alcohol availability and use, pricing, marketing and advertising.  We are on target with our preparation and planned publication of our report on our findings”.

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