THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has said that Ireland is free to give a grant to community groups here towards the cost of potentially life-saving defibrillators.
MEP for Ireland East, Liam Aylward, had submitted a question to the EC on the subject of the 23 per cent VAT rate on defibrillators here. While implantable defibrillators – for individual use – are exempt from VAT, defibrillators bought for public use are not.
This means that community and sports groups which fundraise to buy the devices in a bid to save lives in the case of sudden cardiac arrest must also pay 23 per cent VAT on top. Campaigners such as Beating Again, founded by emergency medical technicians, have been canvassing for the removal on the VAT rate since last year.
TheJournal.ie reported last month that the Government claimed it can not lift the rate because it is constrained by EU law. The answer received by Liam Aylward this week from the EC confirms that an EU directive on VAT dictates that a zero rate cannot be implemented by a particular member state at their own discretion. The reply from the Commission reads:
VAT is a general consumption tax meant for raising revenue which Member States redistribute according to their budgetary, social, or policy requirements. Zero rates are thus in conflict with the nature of VAT as a general consumption tax levied on all taxable supplies of goods and services. This principle is the view of a large majority of Member States, who can only accept zero rates as strictly limited derogations to the normal rules, with no possibility of their extension.
The letter from the EC also states that a reduced VAT rate would not necessarily be the “most suitable instrument for pursuing policy objectives, particularly for ensuring financial redistribution to poor households or encouraging the consumption of socially desirable products”.
It goes on to say that while a zero VAT rate would not be possible on certain goods, there might be another way to assist purchases:
Lastly, it should be pointed out that Member States are free to grant financial support to assist community groups or similar organisations, provided that in doing so they comply with EU law, in particular the provisions on State aid.
However, it is in the competence of Member States to establish Automated Defibrillators programmes and national strategies for access to such devices.
The Irish Heart Foundation estimates that sudden cardiac death occurs in 5,000 deaths in Ireland each year. MEP Aylward told TheJournal.ie that if VAT could not be reduced for defibrillators, it would be advisable for the Government to heed the EC suggestion regarding a national strategy for access to the devices. This would include increasing financial support to community groups who are trying to buy defibrillators and providing training for people on how to use them, via a dedicated scheme.
The Irish Heart Foundation stresses that a defibrillator is just one of several steps to be taken in the case of cardiac arrest, applying CPR being the first in the chain of survival. Speaking to TheJournal.ie last month, Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy for the IHF, said that the organisation “cannot stress enough the importance of having more defibrillators in communities around Ireland combined with volunteers who know CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)”. He continued:
Every year about 5,000 people die from sudden cardiac death here and about 100 of these happen to people under the age of 35 years. Our message is simple: with more defibrillators and CPR, more lives can be saved. In fact, 123 people were saved as a direct result of the use of defibrillators in the 12 months up to October 2012.
But taxing defibrillators is like putting a tax on saving lives. We need the government to push back at EU level to address this anomaly to remove the VAT barrier for groups and encourage the continued roll-out of lifesaving initiatives like our Heartsafe programme which promotes recognised standards in CPR and in the use of defibrillators in all communities around Ireland.
One hundred and twenty-three people were saved as a direct result of the use of defibrillators in the 12 months up to October 2012. One of them was 85-year-old Jack Healy at Dublin Airport last September.
Liam Aylward said that while “investment in training and awareness would be money well spent but it is clear that the Government could take further action regarding the costs of these machines. As the VAT cannot be lowered they must put forward alternatives which will assist communities in gaining access to and training on this life-saving technology”.
Labour TD Ciarán Lynch suggested to Health Minister of State Alex White in the Dáil last month that the Government refund money spent on VAT on defibrillators by voluntary groups. White replied that such refunds would not be possible and added that funding was “available” separately to such organisations.