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Written on 14th July 2016 by Laura Magson

An international lingerie company has today been handed down a ruling from the Supreme Court to the effect that its specialist mastectomy bra is not “normal lingerie” and as such is not subject to a 6.5% European Customs and Excise import tax.

This decision overturned an earlier ruling in the Court of Appeal that the bra’s were in fact lingerie for all intent and purposes and should be subject to import taxes in the normal way.

The Supreme Court ruled that the bra should be classed as an, “orthopaedic appliance”, artificial body part or other appliance to “compensate” for disability”.

The ruling states, “By holding the breast form in place, the bra enables it to perform its function. "The bra thus ‘performs a particular service relative to the main function’ of the breast form.”

What are mastectomy bras?

Mastectomy bra’s are designed to hold artificial breasts in place once a breast has been remove due to breast cancer.

Mastectomy bra’s can also be used by women using an artificial breast until breast reconstruction can be completed.

The charity, “Breast Cancer Care” says that it is best to wear a specially designed masectomy bra as it has special features including soft seams and no under-wires which makes them more comfortable to women recovering from breast surgery.

A number of specialist retailers offer mastectomy bras, which are exempt from VAT if they are bought by someone who has had breast surgery.  The bra’s, until this ruling were however not exempt from European import taxes.

In some cases a special surgical bra may be recommended by surgeons. These bra’s are different to mastectomy bra’s.

A call for a total tax exemption for all cancer related treatment aids

Boyes Turner Solicitors regularly represent client’s who have been exposed to asbestos through no fault of their own who later go on to suffer debilitating asbestos related diseases such as diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer, the latter two of which are fatal diseases.

Like all other cancer patients, asbestos victims often require specialist equipment which is not available on the NHS and must therefore be purchased privately.  Some patients also choose to fund their own treatment as opposed to opting for NHS funded treatment.

The cost of privately funded asbestos related cancer aids can be expensive with products ranging from medications, specialist breathing masks and lung fluid drains to name but a few.

Boyes Turner would hope that this ruling would not only set a precedent for other companies to avoid paying European import taxes on specialist cancer related aids, but also for UK based firms to perhaps challenge the need for its consumers to pay any VAT on its products, just as mastectomy bra’s currently are. 

The removal of European import tax and VAT from the price of a product will make it more affordable, available to a wider audience and will greatly assist cancer victims in living a more comfortable life style whilst battling with cancer.