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Pitches at car boot fairs and market stalls remain exempt from VAT. Those at the rough-and-ready antiques and collectors' fairs held at showground sites up and down the UK are not.

It is scant consolation that the Birmingham tribunal agreed that HMRC's rules were unclear. Judges even stated that David Burns, IACF's accountant, had been "justified" in assuming that the changes did not affect the company - or indeed that not all VAT offices were singing from the same hymn sheet on this matter.

The impact of this won't be immediate. After all, IACF, B2B Events and Bob Evans Fairs have all reluctantly been charging VAT on stand rates since the implications of the rule changes emerged in late 2013.

As a whole, numbers have dipped a little but the end isn't nigh. Kris Hart at Bob Evans Fairs told ATG he had not seen any change in bookings for the twice-yearly Peterborough Festival of Antiques since upping stand rates.

Keith Harris at IACF said bookings at Newark were down around 8% but not all of the fall could be put at the doorstep of a stand price increase.

Nor too will trade or public buyers be directly affected. VAT is already charged on entrance tickets.

However, the results of the ruling could yet be wide-reaching.

Threats to Fairs

A great unknown is just how damaging any backdated payment may be to those who did not levy the charge. Hopes of an amnesty dating back to the rule change in November 2012 do not look good.

When ATG chaired a round-table meeting on the topic in 2013, the talk was that some might not be able to continue in business if VAT was imposed and then backdated.

The ruling comes at a difficult time for the once booming showground fair phenomenon, now squeezed by changes in taste, technology and the buying audience.

The thousands of traders who stand at these events work to narrow profit margins and most (more than 80% according to a survey conducted at the Shepton Mallet fair in 2013) are not VAT registered. Thus far many organisers have agreed to share some of the extra cost of 20% price rise, and promised to reimburse standholders in the event that they won this fight.

Last month that hope seems to have ended.