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Pencils and paper... it's hardly taxing!

12:00am | & Tips and Advice

If something isn't already taxed, you can bet your bottom dollar there's a taxman out there somewhere looking for a way to tax it! As the old saying (usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin writing in 1789) goes 'nothing is certain in life but death and taxes'.

In the past few years a growing army of adults have found relaxation and enjoyment in a new pastime.... colouring books for grownups. While social analysts jostled to explain the phenomenon, these intricately-patterned colouring books simply flew off the shelves, sparking the first rise in global book sales for four years.

A global pencil shortage was also reported, as manufacturers in what had been a declining market suddenly faced huge demand from legions of adult colouring-in devotees. Of course, most of us have enjoyed colouring books at some time in our lives, but most leave it behind along with other childhood activities.

Perhaps going back to colouring books in later life could be a way to recapture our lost childhood? That's what some people have speculated, while others suggest the simple tactile joy of putting pencil to paper is backlash against our increasingly technology-dominated world. Others suggest the creative use of colour awakens and stimulates part of our brains that many people don't routinely use in their everyday lives.

Whatever the motivation, millions of adults across the world have bought adult colouring books, many with particular themes which appeal to them, and set about colouring in, finding the uncomplicated activity restful, calming and surprisingly therapeutic. In the UK alone, more than three million adult colouring books were sold in 2015, worth an estimated £20.3M.

And where millions of people are buying something, any taxman worth his salt sees a golden opportunity!

Because up to now, an added benefit for UK adults who like to colour in has been that their colouring books are not subject to VAT. The taxman has assumed that colouring in books were almost entirely for children, and so not subject to VAT. But now Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are having a hasty rethink and in talks with publishers about the VAT status of adult colouring books.

In short, they want to class them at 'uncompleted books', which attract the full 20% VAT rate. Hardly surprising when you realise they missed out on more than £4M in VAT last year alone. And don't feel smug if your passion is for dot-to-dot books, because they are included in the same proposals, although books specifically for children will stay VAT-free.

So if you've found pleasure and an escape from the world's worries in the pages of a colouring book, now might be a good time to stock up for the future.

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