Monthly Archives: May 2014

VAT – Land and Property Issues

By   May 23, 2014

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Supplies relating to property may be, or have been; 20%, 17.5%, 15.%, 5%, zero-rated, exempt, or outside the scope of VAT – all impacting, in different ways, upon the VAT position of a supplier and customer. In addition, the law permits certain exempt supplies to be changed to 20% without the agreement of the customer. As soon as a supplier is provided with a choice, there is a chance of making the wrong one! Even very slight differences in circumstances may result in a different and potentially unexpected VAT outcome, and it is an unfortunate fact of business life that VAT cannot be ignored.

Why is VAT important?

The fact that the rules are complex, ever-changing, and the amounts involved in property transactions are usually high means that there is an increased risk of making errors. These often result in large penalties and interest payments plus unwanted attentions from the VAT man. Uncertainty regarding VAT may affect budgets and an unforeseen VAT bill (and additional SDLT) may risk the profitability of a venture.

Problem areas

Certain transactions tend to create more VAT issues than others. These include; whether a property sale can qualify as a VAT free Transfer Of a Going Concern, supplies involving Listed property and conversions of properties from commercial to residential use, whether to opt to a commercial property, the recovery of VAT charged on a property purchase, supplies between landlord and tenants, the Capital Goods Scheme, HMRC anti-avoidance rules and even seemingly straightforward VAT registration. Additionally, the VAT treatment of building services throws up its own set of VAT complications.

VAT Planning

The usual adage is “right tax, right time”. This, more often than not, means considering the VAT treatment of a transaction well in advance of that transaction taking place. Unfortunately, with VAT there is usually very little planning that can be done after the event. For peace of mind a consultation with me can steer you through the complexities and, if there are issues, to minimise the impact of VAT on a project. Assistance of a VAT adviser is usually crucial if there are any disputes with VAT inspectors.

For more information, please see our Land & Property services


Are e-books books?

By   May 21, 2014


alan_books_3Books are zero rated for VAT purposes, but only (currently) if they are of the traditional dead tree variety. The zero rating does not extend to e-books which are standard rated for VAT. There has been a long standing argument that similar content should not be taxed at different rates solely depending on the method of delivery. This argument is about to be tested in the courts. The UK is not permitted by the EC to extend its current zero rating for printed matter, however, it is expected that the contention in this case will be that the inclusion of new products will not extend the zero rating, but rather the development of technology has created a supply that should be covered by the existing zero rating legislation.

If it is accepted by the courts that all types of book should attract the same rate of VAT, it may mean that the rate will be equalised upwards. So, by the end of the year we could be looking at VAT of 5% being added to books, newspapers and other printed matter which was hitherto VAT free – A “tax on learning” as previous protests had it when there was a threat to tax free books.

Oops! Top Ten VAT howlers

By   May 8, 2014

Website Images0036I am often asked what the most frequent VAT errors made by a business are. I usually reply along the lines of “a general poor understanding of VAT, considering the tax too late or just plain missing a VAT issue”.

While this is unquestionably true, a little further thought results in this top ten list of VAT horrors:

1 Not considering that HMRC may be wrong. There is a general assumption that HMRC know what they are doing. While this is true in most cases, the complexity and fast moving nature of the tax can often catch an inspector out. Added to this is the fact that in most cases inspectors refer to HMRC guidance (which is HMRC’s interpretation of the law) rather to the legislation itself. Reference to the legislation isn’t always straightforward either, as often EC rather than UK domestic legislation is cited to support an analysis. The moral to the story is that tax is complicated for the regulator as well, and no business should feel fearful or reticent about challenging a HMRC decision.

2 Missing a VAT issue altogether. A lot of errors are as a result of VAT not being considered at all. This is usually in relation to unusual or one-off transactions (particularly land and property or sales of businesses). Not recognising a VAT “triggerpoint” can result in an unexpected VAT bill, penalties and interest, plus a possible reduction of income of 20% or an added 20% in costs. Of course, one of the basic howlers is not registering at the correct time. Beware the late registration penalty, plus even more stringent penalties if HMRC consider that not registering has been done deliberately.

3 Not considering alternative structures. If VAT is looked at early enough, there is very often ways to avoid VAT representing a cost. Even if this is not possible, there may be ways of mitigating a VAT hit.

4 Assuming that all transactions with overseas customers are VAT free. There is no “one size fits all” treatment for cross border transactions. There are different rules for goods and services and a vast array of different rules for different services. The increase in trading via the internet has only added to the complexity in this area, and with new technology only likely to increase the rate of new types of supply it is crucial to consider the implications of tax; in the UK and elsewhere.

5 Leaving VAT planning to the last minute. VAT is time sensitive and it is not usually possible to plan retrospectively. Once an event has occurred it is normally too late to amend any transactions or structures. VAT shouldn’t wag the commercial dog, but failure to deal with it at the right time may be either a deal-breaker or a costly mistake.

6 Getting the option to tax wrong. Opting to tax is one area of VAT where a taxpayer has a choice. This affords the possibility of making the wrong choice, for whatever reasons. Not opting to tax when beneficial, or opting when it is detrimental can hugely impact on the profitability of a project. Not many businesses can carry the cost of, say, not being able to recover VAT on the purchase of a property, or not being able to recover input tax on a big refurbishment. Additionally, seeing expected income being reduced by 20% will usually wipe out any profit in a transaction.

Not realising a business is partly exempt. For a business, exemption is a VAT cost, not a relief. Apart from the complexity of partial exemption, a partly exempt business will not be permitted to reclaim all of the input tax it incurs and this represents an actual cost. In fact, a business which only makes exempt supplies will not be able to VAT register, so all input tax will be lost. There is a lot of planning that may be employed for partly exempt businesses and not taking advantage of this often creates additional VAT costs.

8 Relying on the partial exemption standard method to the business’ disadvantage. A partly exempt business has the opportunity to consider many methods to calculate irrecoverable input tax. The default method, the “standard method” often provides an unfair and costly result. I recommend that any partly exempt business obtains a review of its activities from a specialist. I have been able to save significant amounts for clients simply by agreeing an alternative partial exemption method with HMRC.

Not taking advantage of the available reliefs. There are a range of reliefs available, if one knows where to look. From Bad Debt Relief, Zero Rating (VAT nirvana!) and certain de minimis limits to charity reliefs and the Flat Rate Scheme, there are a number of easements and simplifications which could save a business money and reduce administrative and time costs.

10 Forgetting the impact of the Capital Goods Scheme. The range of costs covered by this scheme has been expanded recently. Broadly, VAT incurred on certain expenditure is required to be adjusted over a five or ten year period. Failure to recognise this could either result in assessments and penalties, or a position whereby input tax has been under-claimed.

So, you may ask: “How do I make sure that I avoid these VAT pitfalls?” – And you would be right to ask.

Of course, I would recommend that you engage a VAT specialist to help reduce the exposure to VAT costs!

Latest from the courts – Trinity Mirror plc

By   May 1, 2014

Good news for taxpayers who submit returns or payments slightly late.Easter 20140007

There is an HMRC default surcharge regime whereby a taxpayer is penalised when he fails to lodge a VAT return or payment by the due date (usually one month and one week after the end of the VAT period). There was no dispute over the fact that the return and payment was indeed a day late.

Trinity Mirror plc appealed against a default surcharge of £70,909 at the 2% rate.  Broadly, the company was late twice within the same 12 month period.  However, the return was just one day late and the company contended that such a surcharge was disproportionate having regard to domestic and EC legislation.   Applying the Upper Tribunal’s decision in the case of Total Technology (Engineering) Ltd, the Tribunal held that proportionality had to be assessed at the level of the default surcharge regime as a whole and at the individual level by asking whether the penalty imposed on a particular taxpayer based on the particular facts of its case was proportionate.  The Tribunal held that the surcharge in Trinity Mirror plc’s case was unfair as the company had been previously compliant and the default was only one day.  The chairman went on to comment that this penalty was harsh and excessive in light of the low gravity of the infringement.

Because there are no provisions for the Tribunal to mitigate such a surcharge, it had no option but to completely set aside the penalty.

This may well provide a taxpayer with an additional weapon in their armoury when dealing with HMRC’s surcharges and provides additional clarity on proportionality in relation to the levying of default surcharges.  There already exists a concept of “reasonable excuse” which goes toward mitigation of surcharges and there is significant case law to illustrate what constitutes a reasonable excuse.  If you have received what you consider to be an unfair or harsh penalty, please contact us as experience insists that in the majority of cases we have dealt with we have been able to either remove or reduce HMRC’s penalties.