Monthly Archives: January 2015

VAT – Splitting a business to avoid registration doesn’t work

By   January 30, 2015


I have a cunning plan to avoid registering for VAT…….

….I’ll simply split my business into separate parts which are all under the VAT registration turnover limit – ha!

I’ve heard this said many a time in “bloke in the pub” situations. But is it possible?

You will not be surprised to learn that HMRC don’t like such schemes and there is legislation and case law for them to use to attack such planning known as “disaggregation”. This simply means artificially splitting a business.

What HMRC will consider to be artificial separation:

HMRC will be concerned with separations which are a contrived device set up to circumvent the normal VAT registration rules. Whether any particular separation will be considered artificial will, in most cases, depend upon the specific circumstances. Accordingly it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of all the types of separations that HMRC will view as artificial. However, the following are examples of when HMRC would at least make further enquiries:

Separate entities supply registered and unregistered customers

In this type of separation, the registered entity supplies any registered customers and the unregistered part supplies unregistered customers.

Same equipment/premises used by different entities on a regular basis

In this type of situation, a series of entities operates the same equipment and/or premises for a set period in any one-week or month. Generally the premises and/or equipment is owned by one of the parties who charges rent to the others. This situation may occur in launderettes and take-aways such as fish and chip shops or mobile catering equipment.

Splitting up of what is usually a single supply

This type of separation is common in the bed and breakfast trade where one entity supplies the bed and another the breakfast. Another is in the livery trade where one entity supplies the stabling and another, the hay to feed the animals. There are more complex examples, but the similar tests are applied to them too.

Artificially separated businesses which maintain the appearance of a single business

A simple example of this type of separation includes; pubs in which the bar and catering may be artificially separated. In most cases the customer will consider the food and the drinks as bought from the pub and not from two independent businesses. The relationship between the parties in such circumstances will be important here as truly franchised “shop within a shop” arrangements will not normally be considered artificial.

One person has a controlling influence in a number of entities which all make the same type of supply in diverse locations

In this type of separation a number of outlets which make the same type of supplies are run by separate companies which are under the control of the same person. Although this is not as frequently encountered as some of the other situations, the resulting tax loss may be significant.

The meaning of financial, economic and organisational links

Again each case will depend on its specific circumstances. The following examples illustrate the types of factors indicative of the necessary links, although there will be many others:

Financial links

  • financial support given by one part to another part
  • one part would not be financially viable without support from another part
  • common financial interest in the proceeds of the business

Economic links

  • seeking to realise the same economic objective
  • the activities of one part benefit the other part
  • supplying the same circle of customers

Organisational links

  •  common management
  • common employees
  • common premises
  • common equipment

HMRC often attack structures which were not designed simply to avoid VAT registration, so care should be taken when any entity VAT registers, or a conscious decision is made not to VAT register. Registration is a good time to have a business’ activities and structure reviewed by an adviser.

As with most aspects of VAT, there are significant and draconian penalties for getting registration wrong, especially if HMRC consider that it has been done deliberately to avoid paying VAT.

Crime doesn’t pay……..VAT? Is there tax on illegal activities?

By   January 26, 2015

A number of people have been surprised to find that crime does pay tax, thank you very much. It seems bad enough that the police should chase and catch you, put you in the dock and send you to prison, without finding that your first visitor is HMRC….

Dodgy perfume?Black Market

Goodwin & Unstead were in business selling counterfeit perfume. They were also up-front about what they were doing. Unstead claimed that “Everything I can carry in my vehicle, everything I trade in and sell, is a complete copy of the real thing. I do not sell goods as the real thing. In fact I sell my goods for a quarter of the original price. I am not out to defraud or con the public. I only appeal to the poseurs in life.”

The real manufacturers might have sued these men for passing off the product of their chemistry experiments in trademarked bottles, but it was HMRC who sent them to jail – for failing to register and pay VAT on their sales. The amount they should have collected was estimated at £750,000, which shows that they must have appealed to a great many poseurs.
If they had paid the VAT, Customs would have had no problem with them. Their customers must have been reasonably satisfied – if your counterfeit perfume smells something like the real thing, why worry?
They tried to get out of jail with an ingenious argument – if the sale of the perfume was illegal, surely there shouldn’t be VAT on it. It wasn’t legitimate business activity, so it wasn’t something that ought to be taxable. The European Court had no time for this. They pointed out that it would give lawbreakers an advantage over lawful businesses; they wouldn’t have to charge VAT. The judges suggested that maybe people would even deliberately break the law so they could get out of tax; in this case, the only thing that made the trade illegal was treading on someone’s trademark rights, and that was something that might happen at any time in legitimate businesses. The judges said that VAT would apply to any trade which competed in a legal marketplace, even if the particular sales broke the law for some reason. Counterfeit perfume is VATable because real perfume is too. Of course, Customs have traditionally had two main roles – looking for drug smugglers, and dealing with VAT-registered traders. They have generally treated both with much the same suspicion, but the ECJ made it clear in this case that the two sets of customers are completely separate.

“Personal” services?

Customers paid the escort £130, of which £30 was paid to the agency. VAT on £130 or VAT on £30?

The first hearing before the Tribunal went something like this (this may be using artistic licence, but the published summary implies it was so):

HMRC: “We think the VAT should be on £130 because the escorts are acting as agents of the escort business.”
Trader: “No, it’s just £30, the £100 belongs to the escort and is nothing to do with me.”
Tribunal chairman: “All right, tell me a bit about how the business operates.”
Customs: “No.”
Tribunal chairman: “What?”
Customs: “You don’t want to know.”
Tribunal chairman: “How can I decide whether the escorts are acting as agent or principals without knowing how the business operates?”
Customs: “Don’t go there, just give us a decision.”
Tribunal chairman: “Trader, you tell me how the business operates.”
Trader: “I agree with him, you don’t want to know.”
The Tribunal seems to have been a bit baffled by this. They were aware that Customs had a great deal more evidence which had been collected during the course of a thorough investigation, and they asked the parties to go away and decide whether they might let the Tribunal see a bit more of it so they could make a judgement rather than a guess.

What about drugs then?

It’s well-known that you are allowed to smoke dope in some establishments in Amsterdam, although the Dutch authorities are thinking about restricting this to Netherlands’ residents. They may find that such a rule contravenes the European Law on freedom of movement – under the EU treaty, you can’t be meaner to foreigners than you are to your own people just because they are foreign. That’s a nice idea, but individuals and governments keep trying it on. Anyway, the Coffeeshop Siberie rented space to drug dealers who would sell cannabis at tables for people to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere. Presumably they are preparing to examine passports or local utility bills before making the sale, if only the Dutch are to be allowed to get stoned. Anyway, the Dutch authorities asked the coffee shop’s owners for VAT on the rent paid by the dealers, and the owners appealed to the ECJ. This time, surely, it was sufficiently illegal. Although the consumption of drugs was tolerated, it was still against the law, and it must therefore be not VATable.
The judges pointed out that the coffee shop was not actually selling drugs. They were just providing the space for other people to sell drugs. Although selling drugs was completely illegal, and there was no legitimate market in cannabis, renting space was a normal business activity. Renting space to someone who did something illegal with it was in the same category as the dodgy perfume sales in Goodwin & Unstead: it was a bit illegal, but not illegal enough. The VAT was still due.

In a German case, the ECJ ruled that the importation of counterfeit money was outside the scope of VAT. The Advocate-General observed that a line must be drawn between, on the one hand, transactions that lie so clearly outside the sphere of legitimate economic activity that, instead of being taxed, they can only be the subject of criminal prosecution, and, on the other hand, transactions which though unlawful must nonetheless be taxed, if only for ensuring in the name of fiscal neutrality, that the criminal is not treated more favourably than the legitimate trader’.

So, there you have it, if you are of a criminal disposition, and you want to avoid VAT, funny money is the way to go.  Please note, this does not constitute advice…..!

Sponsorship – Please help

By   January 19, 2015


Please help to provide clean water to those that desperately need it in East Africa.

The lack of clean water means that people are dying.  The charity Dig Deep is trying to help as many people as possible.

How you can help: My daughter Isabel Ward is taking part in Dig Deep fundraising events and to help them continue the work to get clean water to those who need it most. Any small donation to help get to her £2,990 target would be greatly appreciated.

The event: Isabel is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for the charity in September 2015.


Isabel is currently a second year student at the University of Exeter studying English Literature. She has a strong passion for photography, yoga, running and anything literary based. As part of a large group from both the University of Exeter and Falmouth University, we are fundraising to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The trek will take approximately seven days; five up and two down!  She hopes to be doing some continual volunteer work in the local communities and see where our fundraising money will be going.  Please help to provide clean water to those that desperately need it in East Africa.

Isabel’s sponsorship page:

Dig Deep was set up in 2007 and helps to get clean water to communities in East Africa. They use current technology and methods to create a sustainable source of clean water, something that everyone deserves. By donating you’ll help for the equipment and teaching needed to help create and sustain clean and fresh water. Anything you can give will be greatly appreciated by myself and the people of East Africa.

Please Dig Deep!

Many thanks.


VAT – Prompt Payment Discounts; new rules

By   January 19, 2015

Bike shadowThe rules on how VAT is accounted for on prompt payment discounts (PPD) will change on 1 April 2015.  Currently, suppliers offering a PPD are able to account for output tax on the discounted price, even if the PPD is not taken up by the customer.

From April, suppliers must account for output tax on the amount actually received.

This will entail changes to accounting processes for, and recovering VAT when a prompt payment discount is offered and taken up, and the new rules provide for an alternative to issuing credit notes.

HMRC Brief 49 is here;

And I have reproduced it in full below:

HMRC Brief 49


PPD VAT legislation was amended earlier this year. This brief provides guidance on what to do when you raise or receive a VAT invoice offering a PPD from the 1 April 2015 when the change takes effect.

2.Who needs to read this?

Suppliers who offer and customers who receive PPD where an invoice is issued.


A PPD is an offer by a supplier to their customer of a reduction in the price of goods and/or services supplied if the customer pays promptly; that is, after an invoice has been issued and before full payment is due. For example a business may offer a discount of 5% of the full price if payment is made within 14 days of the date of the invoice.

  • at present, suppliers making PPD offers are permitted to put on their invoice, and account for, the VAT due on the discounted price, even if the full price (i.e. the undiscounted amount) is subsequently paid. Customers receiving PPD offers may only recover as input tax the VAT stated on the invoice.
  • after the change, suppliers must account for VAT on the amount they actually receive and customers may recover the amount of VAT that is actually paid to the supplier.

Changes were made to UK legislation in the Finance Act 2014 in order to protect the revenue, and put it beyond doubt that UK legislation is aligned with EU legislation. The new legislation is at paragraph 4 below.

The change took effect on 1 May 2014 for supplies of broadcasting and telecommunication services where there was no obligation to provide a VAT invoice. For all other supplies the change takes effect on 1 April 2015.

A consultation took place between 17 June and 9 September 2014 asking businesses for their views and suggestions on how the changes should be implemented. In particular whether issuing credit or debit notes to evidence a change in the consideration would cause them difficulties. The Summary of Consultation Responses was published shortly after Autumn Statement 2014. We accepted that an alternative to issuing credit or debit notes was needed (see guidance below).

4.The New Legislation

The revised paragraph 4, Schedule 6, VATA 1994 is set out below:

4 (1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies where. (a) goods or services are supplied for a consideration which is a price in money, (b) the terms on which those goods or services are so supplied allow a discount for prompt payment of that price, (c) payment of that price is not made by instalments, and (d) payment of that price is made in accordance with those terms so that the discount is realised in relation to that payment. (2) For the purposes of section 19 (value of supply of goods or services) the consideration is the discounted price paid.



a) on issuing a VAT invoice, suppliers will enter the invoice into their accounts, and record the VAT on the full price. If offering a PPD suppliers must show the rate of the discount offered on their invoice (Regulation 14 of the VAT Regulations 1995 (SI 1995/2518)).

b) the supplier will not know if the discount has been taken-up until they are paid in accordance with the terms of the PPD offer, or the time limit for the PPD expires.

c) the supplier will need to decide, before they issue an invoice, which of the processes below they will adopt to adjust their accounts in order to record a reduction in consideration if a discount is taken-up.

d) when adjustments take place in a VAT accounting period subsequent to the period in which the supply took place the method of adjustment needs to comply with Regulation 38 of the VAT Regulations 1995 (SI 1995/2518).

e) suppliers may issue a credit note to evidence the reduction in consideration. In which case, a copy of the credit note must be retained as proof of that reduction.

f) alternatively, if they do not wish to issue a credit note, the invoice must contain the following information (in addition to the normal invoicing requirements):

  • the terms of the PPD (PPD terms must include, but need not be limited to, the time by which the discounted price must be made).
  • a statement that the customer can only recover as input tax the VAT paid to the supplier.

Additionally, it might be helpful for invoices to show:

  • the discounted price
  • the VAT on the discounted price
  • the total amount due if the PPD is taken up.

g) if a business has adopted the option at (f), the VAT invoice, containing appropriate wording as described above, together with proof of receipt of the discounted price in accordance with the terms of the PPD offer (e.g. a bank statement) will be required to evidence the reduction in consideration, and the reduction to the supplier’s output tax (in accordance with Regulation 38 of the VAT Regulations 1995).

h) we recommend businesses use the following wording on the invoice:

“A discount of X% of the full price applies if payment is made within Y days of the invoice date. No credit note will be issued. Following payment you must ensure you have only recovered the VAT actually paid.”

i) if the discounted price is paid in accordance with the PPD terms, then the supplier must adjust their records to record the output tax on the amount actually received.

If the full amount is received no adjustment will be necessary.


On receiving an invoice offering a PPD a VAT registered customer may recover the VAT charged, in accordance with VAT Regulation 29 of the VAT Regulations 1995.

As adjustments may take place in a VAT accounting period subsequent to the period in which the supply took place the method of adjustment needs to comply with Regulation 38 of the VAT Regulations 1995 (SI 1995/2518).

In practice this will mean:

a) if the customer pays the full price they record it in their records and no VAT adjustment is necessary.

b) if the customer pays the discounted price in accordance with the PPD terms on receipt of the invoice they may record the discounted price and VAT on this in their accounts and no subsequent VAT adjustment is necessary.

c) if the customer does not pay when the invoice is first issued, they must record the full price and VAT in their records as shown on the invoice. If they subsequently decide to take-up the PPD then:

  • if they have received an invoice setting out the PPD terms which states no credit note will be issued they must adjust the VAT in their records when payment is made. They should retain a document that shows the date and amount of payment (e.g. a bank statement) in addition to the invoice to evidence the reduction in consideration.
  • if the supplier’s invoice does not state that a credit note will not be issued, the customer must adjust the VAT they claim as input tax when the credit note is received. They must retain the credit note as proof of the reduction in consideration.
  • Imports

The legislation in relation to prompt payments on imports has not changed; section 21(3) of VATA 1994 still applies.

Payments outside PPD terms

Where a supplier receives a payment that falls short of the full price but which is not made in accordance with the PPD terms it cannot be treated as a PPD. The supplier must account for VAT on the full amount as stated on the invoice. If the amount not paid remains uncollected it will become a bad debt in the normal way. If a price adjustment is agreed later, then adjustment must be made in the normal way e.g. a credit note.

For more information please contact us.

VAT implications of renewable energy sources

By   January 15, 2015

Website MXW0001_5

If you own land and install solar panels (which we shall use as an example, although the rules apply equally to any way of generating renewable power), it is relatively straightforward; as you are either consuming the power, or are the provider supplying electricity back to the National Grid.

Where the position may get slightly more complicated is where a solar panel business buy the ‘space’ to install energy producing equipment from someone else. Many businesses are renting the roof space from others upon which to install the solar panels. The businesses may pay the roof owners with ‘free’ electricity in return for renting out this space. Supply of electricity to the owners of the site

For a solar panel business leasing a site, the supply of electricity to the owners of that site is deemed to be a supply of goods.

The business installing the solar panels is the taxable person (if they are, or should be registered for VAT) and they are supplying the owners of the site with a ‘cheap’ supply of electricity in the course of the furtherance of their business.

The supply of electricity for domestic use is a reduced-rate supply under Group 1 of Schedule 7A VATA 1994. The reduced rate of VAT is 5%. If the site owner is using the electricity for domestic purposes then the reduced rate of 5% should apply. If the electricity is being used for business purposes then the supply becomes standard-rated at 20%. However, if there is mixed use, then so long as more than 60% of the use is domestic then the whole supply will be treated as ‘qualifying use’ ie; domestic, and the 5% will apply to the entire amount. Generally speaking, VAT charged at 5% is fully or partly irrecoverable by the recipient.

So in this scenario, the land owner is providing something in exchange for this electricity use; the land owner is giving the solar panel business the use of his land. Therefore this is ‘consideration’ for a service; even if it is ‘non-monetary’ consideration.

This means that the solar panel business will have to calculate a value for this consideration and then charge 5% (or 20%) VAT as necessary, on this amount if they are VAT registered.

The value placed on this non-monetary consideration is not usually a concern for the land owner making the supplies of this land, as this land supply is itself exempt from VAT.

The supply of the land
This is a supply of land by the owner of the site. Unless the land has been ‘opted to tax’ (OTT) then this supply will be exempt from VAT. If the land has been OTT by the landowner – the parties will need to look at the valuation of the (non-monetary) consideration as this will be subject to VAT at 20%. If there is no OTT and the supply is exempt; for a non-VAT registered person, this will have no impact, and this income will not be included in taxable supplies which count towards the VAT registration threshold. If a VAT registered entity makes exempt supplies of land, consideration must be given to his partial exemption position.

VAT consequences of the Feed-In Tariff
In recognition of the higher cost of producing electricity in this manner, people participating in the Feed in Tariff scheme will receive payment under a “generation tariff”. This payment is not consideration for any supply and it is therefore outside the scope of VAT.

Supply of electricity to the electricity board
In addition to the Feed-In Tariff there is the additional income which you may receive from the electricity board ie; the “Export Tariff”. These payments are “consideration for supplies of electricity by people participating in the Feed in Tariff scheme to the electricity company, where they are made by taxable persons in the course of their business”. The export tariff is not outside the scope of VAT and therefore it is a supply of electricity made in the course of the furtherance of your business to the electricity supplier. It will attract standard rated VAT as it is not the supply for domestic use.


A recent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU – the EU’s highest court) case has ruled in favour of the taxpayer after he argued that solar panels installed on his house constituted a business for VAT purposes. This is good news for any people who supply any energy into the grid and are paid a feed-in tariff (FiT) for doing so.

It means that anyone receiving the FiT can VAT register and reclaim (at least some) VAT incurred on the purchase and installation of solar panels plus input tax incurred on any other goods and services relating to the panels.

The supply and installation of “energy saving materials”, including solar panels, is currently subject to a reduced VAT rate of 5% in the UK. The European Commission is currently challenging this policy, arguing that the tax incentive goes beyond the scope of the law. The VAT Directive only allows Member States to apply reduced VAT rates to a limited number of goods and services, which are specified in an annex to the directive. So the cost of buying and installing solar panels may increase in the future.

It is anticipated that HMRC will need to deal with “thousands” of extra registration applications resulting in significant additional VAT repayments.

Oops! – Top Ten VAT howlers

By   January 6, 2015

I 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:

despair (4)

  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.
  7.  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.
  9.  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. The CGS also “passes on” when a TOGC occurs, so extra caution is necessary in these cases.

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!