HOT on the heels of the so-called Pasty Tax, Swindon Guide Dogs is involved in a campaign to exempt guide dog food from VAT.
Special high-protein food eaten by racing greyhounds, sheepdogs, gundogs and other working dogs is exempt from the 20 per cent levy.
But the tax break does not extend to normal food for guide dogs and other assistance dogs – costing the national Guide Dogs charity an estimated £300,000 a year.
Now Swindon Guide Dogs is asking residents to sign a letter and petition urging chancellor, George Osborne, to class assistance dogs as working dogs so the cash can be kept.
Branch chairman, Alan Fletcher, said: “It costs Guide Dogs £300,000 a year just to pay VAT.
“This could be used on doing something for visually impaired people or paying for training of puppies or whatever really.
“The working-life costs on a guide dog is just under £50,000 so that could pay for six guide dog partnerships every year. With the puppy training, it costs £5,000 for the first year’s training of the puppy so that could pay for 60 every year.
“So they’re looking to try to get help to see if they can put the money to better use rather than pay the Government.”
Mr Fletcher, who has been blind since 2005, says guide dog owners normally receive a food cheque from the charity, but he has volunteered to fund food for his eight-year-old Labrador Joy.
He said he pays out about £35 every six weeks for a 15kg bag, on which he pays VAT, but he was surprised to find the national charity pays the tax.
Guide Dogs does not receive any Government funding and completely relies on public donation to pay for its life-transforming work.
About 300 people in Swindon have added their names to the campaign since it was launched in mid-May and Mr Fletcher hopes more will sign up by the end of the month.
“People have been aghast that we aren’t exempt from VAT on guide dog food really,” he said.
“They have been surprised because, I think, they assumed like everyone else we didn’t pay VAT on guide dog food because we’re a charity. But we do and we’re trying to change it.”
Labour MP David Blunkett, a guide dog owner, has backed the campaign.
But his call for reform was rejected by Treasury minister, David Gauke, who said HM Revenue and Customs’ definition of a working dog was based on the type of food it consumes rather than the role it performs.
And he suggested there was nothing to stop guide dog owners buying high-protein food if they wanted to benefit from the tax break.
Guide Dogs says high protein food – formulated to give working dogs an energy boost – is not suitable for guide dogs as it lessens the owner’s “control over their dog’s toilet habits”.
Send a pre-written letter to George Osborne by visiting bit.ly/z3QU41 or sign the petition at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/27195.
Paper petition forms are also available by contacting Mr Fletcher on 01793 827589 or firstname.lastname@example.org