Museums and galleries urged to register for VAT refund to support free public entry

  • Minister encourages more museums and galleries to join program
  • Those added to the program in 2020 are set to benefit from over £70m

Museums and galleries are urged to apply for VAT refunds to support free opening as part of plans to increase visitor numbers and give more people access to arts and culture.

All museums and galleries open to the public for free 30 hours per week can apply. This will help organizations increase their finances and open their collections more regularly.

The VAT refund scheme, which has been running since 2001, was last open to new applicants in 2018/19 and is estimated to have so far refunded up to around £1billion to museums and galleries.

Ahead of a speech at the Edinburgh International Culture Summit, Arts Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay today announced that the scheme will reopen for new applications in the autumn.

It encourages museums and galleries planning to hold exhibitions for free, as well as institutions that are already eligible but not currently benefiting from the program, to apply.

Arts Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

The UK’s brilliant museums and galleries can be proud of the wide range of free exhibitions they put on and the role they play in improving access to arts and culture.

We want to see even more museums offering free entry and supporting organizations that provide great opportunities for the public.

I encourage UK cultural institutions to apply for the VAT Refund Scheme so they can help ensure that people from all walks of life can experience great arts and culture for free.

Establishments participating in the program are entitled to a refund of VAT incurred on goods and services purchased in order to provide free admission. A total of 159 sites across the UK currently benefit from this programme, including the People’s History Museum in Manchester, the Peter Scott Gallery in Lancaster, the Burns House Museum in Kilmarnock, Falkirk’s Callendar House, the National Gallery of Scotland in ‘Edinburgh, The Walker Art Gallery of Liverpool and National Museum Cardiff.

The Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury has used this program to improve its public exhibition spaces for visitors. When the museum acquired a JMW Turner watercolor from Malmesbury, it used the program to help upgrade its mezzanine gallery to display the artwork.

It is estimated that museums and galleries that were added to the scheme in 2020 will benefit from over £70 million in VAT refunds over the six years of joining. New museums and galleries wishing to benefit from the program can apply in the fall.

The Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, Lord Mendoza, said:

In my review of museums, I have identified this purpose-built scheme as one of the most important government interventions to help museums across the UK.

I hope that we will continue to see an increase in the number of applications so that as many people as possible can visit our exceptional museums for free.

Free admission to museums is a distinctive cultural intervention and I am delighted that the government hopes to help even more places this year.

Helen Smout, CEO of Culture Perth and Kinross Limited, said:

The Museums and Galleries VAT Rebate Scheme, alongside the Museums and Galleries Tax Relief, has been extremely beneficial to our organization and has critically assisted us in maintaining a program of free-to-use exhibitions. access.

This work has helped us reconnect with the public after the disruptions of the pandemic and to date, in 2022, we are surpassing our pre-pandemic attendance, bringing additional benefits and revenue to the organization.

Without the support this program provides to museums, our programs would not be as rich, ambitious or engaging and our future would be much bleaker.

Sharon Nolan, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury, said:

Athelstan Museum Malmesbury has benefited greatly from the VAT refund scheme for museums and galleries. When we first joined the program we were in the process of acquiring an old Moravian church (now the Julia and Hans Rausing building) for renovation, to create a new museum store and event/workshop/talks space to attract more diverse audiences. The device allowed us to save VAT on our building works and supplies.

Similarly, when we acquired a Turner watercolor from Malmesbury and wanted to showcase our mezzanine space for display, we again benefited from the scheme. It assists in the day-to-day running of the museum; we receive no funding other than donations, gift aid and gift shop revenue.

We are run entirely by volunteers. The program is invaluable to small, volunteer-run museums like ours. It allows us to maintain our free entry status, to be ambitious and to undertake new projects. Our visitors really enjoy the museum and the numbers are now increasing post-Covid.

The government also extended the sunset clause of the tax relief program for exhibitions in museums and galleries, which aims to encourage cultural venues to develop new exhibitions through financial incentives. The program has received a temporary increase, meaning there will be a 45% tax relief for permanent and temporary exhibitions and a 50% tax relief on traveling exhibitions, up to a maximum of £100,000. From April 1, 2023, these rates will be reduced to 30% and 35% respectively, before returning to their usual rates of 20% and 25% on April 1, 2024.


  • The full criteria for an applying museum and gallery are:
    • be open to the general public at least 30 hours per week, without exception
    • offering free entry without an appointment
    • keep collections in a purpose-built building
    • view details of admission and opening hours on the museum’s website
  • More information and a full list of current organizations on the scheme can be found at:
  • Between April 2001 and June 2022, the total amount of VAT refunds granted to museums and galleries, under Section 33A of the VAT Act 1994, is estimated to be between £900 and £1,000 million. This is based on HMRC VAT returns and assessments of the proportion of non-trading activities.

Source link


Comments are closed.