Is a cosmetic treatment exempt medical care?

Is a cosmetic treatment exempt medical care? 

The Illuminate Skin Clinics Ltd Case


The Appellant runs a private, ie; non-NHS clinic offering a range of aesthetic, skincare and wellness treatments advertised as: fat freezing, thread lifts, chemical peels, fillers, facials, intravenous drips and boosters. The Appellant’s sole director and shareholder, Dr Shotter, complies with Item 1 (below) in terms of qualifications, ie; she is enrolled on the register of medical professionals.

The list of treatments included:

  • Botox
  • Dermal fillers
  • CoolSculpting
  • Microsclerotherapy
  • Prescription skincare
  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Thread lifting
  • Thermavein
  • Aqualyx
  • Platelet-rich plasma treatment.
HMRC contended that these supplies were standard rated because there is no medical purpose behind the treatments, and they are carried out for purely cosmetic purposes. An assessment was raised for output tax on this income.

The Appellant argued that what it provided was exempt medical care via The VAT Act 1994, Schedule 9, Group 7, item 1 – “The supply of services consisting in the provision of medical care by a person registered or enrolled in any of the following:

  • The register of medical practitioners…”
And its contention was that the primary purpose of the treatments was “the protection, maintenance or restoration of the health of the person concerned”

In the Mainpay case it was established that “medical” care means “diagnosing, treating and, in so far as possible, curing diseases or health disorders”


Although there may have been a beneficial psychological impact on undergoing such treatments and this may have been the reason for a patient to proceed (and they may be recommended by qualified medical professionals) this, in itself, was insufficient to persuade the judge that the services were exempt. Consequently, the appeal was rejected and the assessment was upheld.

The FTT found that there was very little evidence of diagnosis. This was important to the overall analysis because diagnosis is the starting point of medical care. Without diagnosis, “treatment”, in the sense of the exemption, is not something which is being done responsively to a disease or a health disorder.

The fact that people go to the clinic feeling unhappy with some aspect of their appearance, and (at least sometimes) are happier when something is done at the clinic about that aspect of their appearance, does not mean that the treatment is medical, or has a therapeutic aim.

It was telling that the differentiation, in Dr Shotter’s own words, between what the clinic does from what “a GP or other health professional” does is; diagnosis. It also highlighted the general trend or purpose of the clinic’s activity – helping people to feel better about their appearance, in contexts where their appearance is not itself a health condition, or threatening to their health in a way which mandates treatment of their appearance by a GP or another health professional.

Helping someone to achieve goals in relation to their appearance, which is what this clinic did, is not treating someone’s mental health status, but is going to their self-esteem and self-confidence. It is a misuse of language to say that this is healthcare in the sense that it would fall within Item 1 of Group 7.


There has been an ongoing debate as to what constitutes medical care.

It is worth remembering that not all services provided by a medically registered practitioner are exempt. The question of whether the medical care exemption is engaged in any given case will turn on the particular facts.

Latest from the courts

In the Illuminate Skin Clinics Ltd First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) case the issue was whether cosmetic procedures qualified as exempt medical treatment.

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