Stephen Hawking Labels EU Tax on Mobility Aids and Products 'Disgraceful'
Imagine, you are part of an esteemed European Parliamentary body, charged with the task of ensuring imports and exports to the union are working well, raising money for the member states.
Imagine further that a little known body, the World Customs Association, advisers to governments on import duties, has recommended "mobility scooters" should be taxed.
You are asked to sit on a committee which is looking at the recommendations and whether categorisation of motorised chairs used by disabled persons should be changed.
Despite none of the committee having a medical background, no expert opinion is requested. Furthermore, since they were invented 30 years ago, the scooters have been treated as essential equipment for the disabled, and thus exempt from tax during that period.
Even so, it is decided that the scooters are reclassified for import duty purposes, from "carriages for disabled persons" to "motor vehicles for the transport of persons", a change that brings a 10% import tax, and will mean UK charities and disadvantaged individuals paying an additional £6 million a year.
Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? Well, it has happened. And on Wednesday this week, the EU's Customs Code Committee will be making the decision whether to continue with the regime. And the UK representative at the committee is likely to support the tax.
A spokesman for the government said: "The World Customs Organisation sets the rules relating to duty classification on mobility scooters, which the EU follows, and these rules have been in place since 2002."
He added: "We continue to support disabled for seriously-ill people in a number of ways, including providing VAT exemptions on a number of goods and services they need."
Understandably there has been an outcry against the duty.
Professor Stephen Hawking called the tax "disgraceful". The physicist, who suffers from motor neurone disease, has relied on the use of a wheelchair for many years.
"For many of us with disabilities, a mobility scooter is literally a lifeline - without it we are locked out further from the world around us. To tax the most disadvantaged in society in this way is simply disgraceful," he said.
Others have also opposed the tax. The average cost of a scooter is £2,500, with over 25,000 being bought each year, often by charities such as The Mobility Bureau. The tax is estimated to raise £6 million. All of which will come from the disabled person or the charity.
"To say these mobility scooters are not just for disabled people is ridiculous," said Jim Dooley chairman of the Mobility Bureau. "Does the EU really think fit and healthy people go out and buy these as a lifestyle choice?"
We believe this duty is unfair, raises a relatively small amount and places an unnecessary burden for what is an essential purpose.
It should not be imposed and we urge the UK government to rethink its stance.