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Airport shops are being urged to pass on VAT savings made in some cases when customers show boarding passes. Passengers are asked to show passes so retailers can identify who is flying to non-EU countries and avoid paying 20% VAT on customers’ purchases.

Treasury minister David Gauke said VAT relief at airports was intended to reduce prices for travellers, not be a windfall gain for shops. The practice is not illegal, but has been challenged by some passengers. Thousands of customers are now refusing to show their boarding passes as part of a “grassroots rebellion”.

Customers are not legally obliged to show their passes when buying goods at the airport.  Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis said: “People withholding their boarding passes will force companies to take note and eventually take action.”

Mr Lewis told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine programme that travellers should ignore claims by retail staff that showing a boarding pass is obligatory. “You’re not protecting the sanctity of Britain by giving them your boarding pass, you are enabling the commercial company to get a reduction on its tax bill,” he said.

A spokesman for Boots, one of many retailers who operate in UK airports, said the company did claim back some VAT for non-EU passengers but added that this was in accordance with the rules set out by the government. WH Smith said it would be impossible to have a pricing system which distinguished between travellers to EU and non-EU destinations.

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