Press Releases

HISTORIC PRESS RELEASE : Promise of Free Museums moves closer [August 2001]

The press release issued by HM Treasury on 9 August 2001.


The Government’s commitment to making Britain’s national museums and galleries free for everyone moved a step closer today as the Treasury published the list of bodies which will benefit from the VAT refund scheme announced in the March Budget.

The museums and galleries featured on the list will receive VAT refunds when they allow the public free admission to their permanent collections, removing the VAT incentive for them to charge for entry. They include the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the British Library, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Armouries, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, and the National Museums and Galleries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, said:

“Free access to our national museums and galleries is one of the 25 steps to a better Britain that the Government has promised to deliver. As part of our commitment to strengthen the role of the arts in our national life, we want everyone to be able to enjoy the great collections in our national museums and galleries for free.”

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, said:

“This much sought after VAT reform is central to making free entry a reality, and the undertakings received from the national museums and galleries concerned will deliver this no later than December 1st.”


1.      Organisations whose activities are undertaken for no charge are not considered to be ?in business? for VAT purposes, and any VAT they incur in relation to these activities cannot therefore be recovered. For many national museums and galleries, VAT has previously created an incentive for them to charge for admissions so that they can recover the VAT which they incur on the things that they buy.

2.      Under the new scheme announced in the Budget and legislated for in the subsequent Finance Bill, all those main national museums and galleries that allow free admissions will be refunded the VAT they incur on their purchases, removing the incentive for them to charge.

3.      Since the Budget, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Defence and the Devolved Administrations have been in consultation with the national museums and galleries they sponsor to ensure that they take advantage of the new VAT scheme, and – where necessary – move over to free admission.

4.      The Treasury has today laid before Parliament an Order listing the national museums and galleries which will be able to benefit from the scheme. This includes both those bodies which do not currently charge and those which plan to move to free admissions.

5.         The scheme covers more than 24 different groups of museums and galleries, spread over more than 50 different sites, more than half of which are located outside London and the South East. The full list of eligible bodies is below.

6.      Eligible museums and galleries which do not currently charge will be able to recover the VAT they have incurred from 1 April 2001 onwards. Other eligible museums and galleries will recover the VAT they incur from the date that they move to free admissions.

7.      The Government’s pre-election manifesto, Ambitions for Britain, said it was “committed to reform the VAT system” to ensure that the main national museums and galleries were made “free for everyone from December”. “Free access to national museums and galleries” was also one of the “25 steps to a better Britain” promised in the manifesto.

8.      The list of eligible groups of museums and galleries is below:

The British Museum

The Imperial War Museum (London and Manchester)

The National Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery

The Natural History Museum

The British Library (public exhibitions, etc.)

The Wallace Collection

The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

Sir John Soane’s Museum

The Museum of London

The Science Museum, including:

The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television;

The National Railway Museum; and

The National Coal Mining Museum.

The Tate Galleries (Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool)

The Victoria and Albert Museums, including:

The Museum of Childhood; and

The National Museum of Performing Arts

The National Maritime Museum

The National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside

The Geffrye Museum

The Horniman Museum

The Royal Armouries

The National Army Museum

The Hendon Royal Air Force Museum

The National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland

The National Museums and Galleries of Wales

The National Museums of Scotland

The National Galleries of Scotland