BETA is joining forces with the BHS to continue its campaign to remove VAT from riding helmets despite government legislation blocking future zero rated goods.
The hard hitting campaign follows the decision by HM Customs to zero rate cycle helmets. It is hoped the campaign will help to remove the anomaly which leaves horse riders at a disadvantage compared with cyclists and motor cyclists.
BETA - the British Equestrian Trade Association - has put forward a case for zero rating riding hats on safety grounds, both for those riding and working with horses.
BETA has lobbied its constituency MP David Curry and representations to the Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo have also been made.
But minister responsible Paul Boateng explained the current problem: "The Government does recognise that many people take part in and enjoy horse riding and the riding helmets, particularly those that meet the improved standards, reduce the risk and occurrence if serious injuries for those taking part.
"However, under an agreement with our European partners, we cannot introduce any new VAT zero rates.
"The zero-rating of pedal cycle helmets, was a marginal adjustment to an existing zero rate for motorcycle helmets. However, the zero-rating of riding helmets would create a new and distinctive zero rate, which is not permitted by the agreement."
BETA Chief Executive and Secretary Claire Williams said: "2.4 million people ride horses and ponies in this country. Of this total 1.7 million are aged 16 and over, and while children's helmets are zero rated, adult sizes are not.
"Riding is a risk sport, of all riders, 384,000, some 16 per cent, have had an accident of some kind, and the latest statistics from the British Horse Society show that the number of road fatalities this year so far is six deaths.
"That is double the annual average. This is probably due to the increased use of the roads by horse riders during the Foot and Mouth crisis.
"Work carried out by Michael Whitlock FRCS, MD at the Royal Guildford Hospital, Surrey last year, indicates that the improvement in the standard for riding helmets has contributed to a substantial reduction in major head injuries compared with 10 years ago.
"His study in the West Midlands in 1991 showed that 15.8 per cent of all riding injuries were major head injuries. The Guildford survey shows a drop to five per cent from a comparable sample of 245 total injuries.
"This is encouraging but we still have a long way to go. Trade estimates show that 40 per cent of all adult riders are still riding with sub standard or non standard hats and helmets. That is 680,000 people."
A top quality hat costs around £130 at retail but riders spend only £75 a year on hats and safety equipment, a finding from the BETA National Equestrian Survey 1999.
BETA's position is that the reduction in hat prices which would result from the deduction of VAT, would contribute significantly to an increased upgrading of helmets to current standards. It is these helmets to higher standards which have made such a contribution to the reduction of major head injuries."
Sheila Hardy, head of safety for the BHS, said: "The BHS welcomes the support of BETA on this vital issue. What we have here is a tax on safety, and we need to get it removed."
Added Ms Williams: "In joining with the BHS to take the campaign forward we are combining the strength of their membership with the support of the manufacturing and retail sectors represented by BETA, all of whom will benefit from a successful campaign."
and retailers of hats have already committed their support to the campaign
and further representations will be made to government.