But that's all about to change. The Treasury has just announced that, from April 2012, this gaping loophole will be sewn up for good. Purveyors of CDs, DVDs, memory cards, contact lenses and other low-price goods who were able to thrash the competition by passing on VAT savings to customers are about to get a rude awakening.
The Treasury believes that this will bring 'increased fairness for UK businesses, benefit the UK economy and protect millions of pounds in tax revenue.'
The VAT relief was originally implemented in the 1980s to reduce the administrative burden of collecting small amounts of VAT on large numbers of small consignments: namely, the many daily shipments from the Channel Islands' fresh flower industry. Pretty soon, however, firms like Play.com and Amazon.co.uk got in on the act, with the knock-on effect of killing off high street music stores across the UK.
Phil McCabe, senior policy adviser at the Forum of Private Business, says: 'If anything can count as a victory for small shops and retailers, it is this.'