Sunday 24 March 2019

VAT on health food supplements hard to swallow for elderly

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Alan O'Keeffe

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is facing growing demands to reverse the imposition of VAT on supplements to help the many elderly people who rely on such products.

One pensioner has said she is facing a €20 hike in her monthly health food supplements bill.

Phil Miller (66) said the 23pc VAT to be imposed from March 1 on her supplements would be a financial burden.

"I spend €100 a month buying three products. Cal-Mag tablets containing calcium and magnesium keeps the pain of my arthritis away. If I don't use it, my pain comes back," she said.

"I buy ginger, turmeric and bromelain tablets which are good for my joints, and I take Eskimo fish oil to keep the joints supple. As a result, I'm doing 20,000 steps a day on my Fitbit," added the grandmother from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

Matt Ronan (57), who, with his wife Nuala, owns the large Evolv health store in Enniscorthy, rejected a statement by Mr Donohoe who said the Revenue Commissioners came up with the VAT increase through interpretation of the tax code and he had to accept their decision as his "hands were tied".

"His hands are not tied. The minister is sitting on his hands," Mr Ronan said.

The businessman said a similar move to put VAT on herbal teas was reversed in 2014 by a brief new piece of legislation which kept the zero rate in place. He said the minister could easily take similar action this time, adding: "Otherwise he will be acting like Pontius Pilate in washing his hands of the problem."

Mr Ronan, who provides regular work for six part-time employees, warned that there would be serious consequences for health stores throughout Ireland.

He said sports supplements were 10pc of his business until 2011 when VAT was imposed on them. Customers reacted by switching to buying them online, resulting in his sports supplement sales falling to just 1pc of his business, he added.

"This VAT introduction will cause people to go online to buy supplements so it will be a recipe for exporting jobs out of the country," he said.

"I guarantee it will stop people buying them over the counter."

Many elderly customers rely on glucosamine sulphate tablets and Omega 3 fish oils to keep their joints supple and to keep themselves mobile. VAT will result in a €5 increase on quantities of products bought on a monthly basis, he said.

The Irish Health Trade Association (IHTA), representing producers and distributors, said the introduction of VAT would have a major effect on the old and the sick.

"It will push the cost beyond what many people can afford," said association spokesman Alan Martin, who also warned that the move will put 1,800 jobs at risk in the sector.

"This outrageous increase in price of food supplements will push the cost beyond what many people can afford, such as elderly people and expectant mothers. It will seriously threaten the viability of the health stores and pharmacies who strive to offer this important health service.

"Health stores are particularly vulnerable because they are small, independent businesses on the main streets of small towns right across Ireland and to see these close would be hugely damaging to their local communities."

Sunday Independent

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