Monthly Archives: March 2015

VAT Planning Overview – The Four “A”s

By   March 23, 2015

To a degree, VAT planning may be considered as something of an abstract concept.  It may be straightforward, or very complex, but what does all successful VAT planning have in common?  What process should be applied in order to get the right solution and to ensure that nothing is missed?   Well this is my technique and it helps me to focus on what is necessary:








The planning process may be broken down into four distinct elements:

Planning process – The four As

  • Ascertainment
  • Analysis
  • Alternatives
  • Action

One must initially obtain all relevant information and consider the appropriate legislation, case law and HMRC documents etc – Ascertainment

In my experience, the most difficult part of this is obtaining all of the relevant information.  It is not always clear if you have received everything available – so it is often difficult to establish what is relevant and what is not.  The skill is asking the right questions of course.  Any competent VAT adviser should be able to “get the answer” if (s)he has the full picture.

Then one must analyse the information – Analysis

Whether it is reading contracts closely, considering EC legislation, reviewing audit trails, searching case law, looking at documentation or carrying out calculations a full analysis is vital in the process of delivering accurate, useful and relevant advice.

The next step is to use the analysis to construct some various alternatives on how to proceed – Alternatives

The most appropriate solution may present itself immediately, or various structures may need to be considered in detail in order to find some workable alternatives.  It is important not to miss anything at this point and to communicate properly with one’s client.  Consideration is required of a client’s attitude to, inter alia; complexity, risk, time invested and tax in general in order to properly tailor VAT advice.

Finally, consideration is given to the alternatives and a decision made on what action to take – Action

This is another point at which good communication with one’s client is important.  The client needs to understand the technicalities, the risks, the impact on business, the resources required etc in order to make an informed decision.  A good adviser will also be aware of the appropriate level of assistance required with implementation. I also find it helps if the worst case scenario is explained in each alternative and the level of resistance form HMRC one is likely to encounter.  I also always bear in mind that most people do not “speak VAT jargon”, spend their waking hours studying indirect tax legislation or reviewing VAT cases, so clear and straightforward English is needed! (Also, I find my diagrams and flowcharts created at meetings a help, even if just to amuse clients with my artistic skills!)

© Marcus Ward Consultancy Ltd 2015

VAT – Compound or multiple supplies? Latest from the courts

By   March 17, 2015

Caravans b&wIn Colaingrove Limited the Upper Tribunal (UT) this week was required to decide whether the supply of electricity to a mobile home was an independent supply, or just one element of part of an overall supply of holiday accommodation.

This is a notoriously difficult area of VAT as the recent case of WM Morrison Supermarket Limited (“Morrisons”) demonstrates.  In this case disposable barbecues (standard rated) were sold with charcoal (reduced rated when sold independently) and the UT decided that it was not possible to carve out the reduced rated element form the overall supply so the whole supply was standard rated.

In Colaingrove a flat-rate charge was made to holidaymakers who paid it as part of the hire charge for self-catering accommodation in mobile homes.  The appellant argued that the electricity charge was separately identifiable and quantifiable and should consequently be treated as a reduced rated (5% rather than 20%) independent supply.

The logic in Morrisons was applied in this case and the UT ruled that the charge for the electricity should properly be included in the price of the standard rated holiday accommodation.  The charge should not be split out, so the entire charge for the accommodation was standard rated, including the specified sum charged for the electricity.

The judge acknowledged that this case was not an easy one to decide and that the arguments advanced on behalf of the taxpayer were both powerful and attractive. It would seem likely that an appeal to the Court of Appeal will be made.

This case further illustrates that care must be taken when analysing the VAT treatment of supplies.  There is significant case law on this matter, but there still remains a certain overlap and sometimes conflicting opinions.  The precise facts of the matter are very important when determining whether supplies are compound or multiple for VAT purposes.


Whether there is a compound or multiple supply is determined by the tests set out in the Card Protection Plan case, namely; firstly, whether there is a principal element of the supply to which all other parts are ancillary and, secondly, whether, in the eyes of the customer, the ancillary element provides a means of better enjoying the principal element. If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then there is a single supply.

What I’ve learned about VAT – The Top 10 lessons

By   March 13, 2015

I know that anybody who has ever met me will find it difficult to believe (!) but I have been involved with VAT for over 20 years. So what are some of the things that I have learned in this time? Here are ten of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far:Marcus Ward (2)

  1. Errors – If you get it wrong it can be very, very expensive.  Not only in terms of paying back tax, penalties and interest, but also the time and resources needed to deal with VAT issues. It can often have a profound impact on business transactions too. If VAT isn’t properly considered during negotiations or the contact stage it could be that a business suffers an unexpected 20% reduction of income or an added burden of irrecoverable input tax.
  2. HMRC Errors – HMRC sometimes get it wrong. One only has to look at case law to find that HMRC’s interpretation of the legislation and their introduction of new domestic legislation has resulted in unfair burdens on the taxpayer. Consequently, it is always worthwhile looking to challenge any “unhelpful” decisions by HMRC and indeed, past errors by the department often provide an opportunity to make retrospective claims for VAT plus interest.
  3. Complexity – VAT was introduced all those years ago as a “simple tax”. The fact is that VAT is now, and has always really been, extremely complex and ever-changing. It is likely that this complexity will increase. As a comparatively “young tax” it will continue to develop, be challenged, be abused, be open to conflicting interpretation and need to change as a result of technology, new products and trading patterns.
  4. Timing – More than any other tax, legal issue or accounting procedure timing is critical in VAT. Because VAT is a transaction based tax timing is crucial and there is rarely the opportunity to carry out retrospective planning. If a taxpayer is even “one day out” in certain circumstances it could add VAT to a hitherto VAT free transaction. Of course, filing or paying VAT late also results in surcharges. The best VAT motto is: Right tax, right time.
  5. Exemption – For a business exemption is a burden not a relief. It will, in nearly all cases, mean that any business which makes exempt supplies will suffer the burden of irrecoverable input tax. Added to this is the complexity of partial exemption calculations and often the rigmarole of agreeing a partial exemption method with HMRC.
  6. Doubt – Increasingly obtaining a ruling from HMRC is difficult. Changes to the way that HMRC approach requests for a determination or clearance means that a taxpayer who is eager to get the technicalities correct will just be referred to a published guidance. This is very unhelpful and uncertainty is a very dangerous thing in the VAT world.
  7. Compliance – The vast majority of businesses want, and try, to get it right. This is hardly an earth-shattering observation, but it is often not a view shared by HMRC – despite some published statements. It is reasonable that HMRC inspectors should challenge VAT treatments and establish whether declarations are credible, after all we as individual taxpayers have an interest that all VAT due is collected, but experience insists that sometimes it is difficult to dislodge an opinion formed by an inspector in cases where a business has actually accounted for VAT correctly.
  8. Charities – Charities have a hard time of it with VAT. It is an unfortunate fact that VAT wasn’t really designed for them, so they have to “fit in” with the VAT system. This means that, compared to most businesses, they have to deal with more complex issues and ultimately, in nearly all cases, VAT will represent a real cost to them, thus reducing the available funds for them to carry out their work. There are some reliefs for charities, but these are of limited value and are very specific.
  9. Planning – The objective of VAT planning is to legitimately defer payment to HMRC until the latest time possible. The converse of this of course, is to obtain any repayments of VAT due from HMRC as soon as possible. It is also important to avoid VAT representing an actual cost and taking advantage of any beneficial UK and EC legislation, determinations, guidance, case law and Business Briefs etc available. There are “off the shelf” – one size fits all schemes and also aggressive planning available BUT these should be approached with the utmost caution. I have often been called in to deal with the aftermath of such schemes and have seen the consequences of a business signing up to these products without a full understanding of their impact and the business’ relationship with HMRC.
  10. VAT Bubble – It is sometimes tempting to look at VAT in isolation. However, it is important to remember that VAT does not exist in a vacuum and that structures/planning may impact on other tax and/or commercial positions. I am fortunate to work with great direct tax people and it is important to us that our clients get a proper holistic advice.

On advisers – I will leave the last word to the famous Red Adair (younger readers – ask your parents) “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

So there you have it – what I’ve learned about VAT in 10 lessons.  Make sure you are aware! (Or know a VAT consultant who is!).


 © Marcus Ward Consultancy Limited 2015

VAT – Are e-books books? Update on ECJ’s decision 5 March 2015

By   March 5, 2015

Books-oldBooks 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 between EC Member States (and between other interested parties) 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.


The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has today ruled that France and Luxembourg must raise their reduced VAT rates on sales of  e-book. This will conclude ongoing disputes (see above) between EC countries over whether e-books may be treated similarly to printed books at the nil or reduced rates.  The UK and Germany were the main protagonists in challenging those Member States where e-books have been treated the same as printed versions.

Initially, Luxembourg and France began reclassifying e-books at the same rate as printed books – 3% and 5.5% in 2012. Subsequently, Italy and Malta joined them at the start of 2015, reducing the rates to 4% and 5%.

These rates where challenged by the UK and Germany who asked the EC to impose rules to ensure that e-books could not take advantage of the printed book rates.  Today, the ECJ published its ruling, stating that since e-books do not have the same physical characteristics as printed books and therefore cannot benefit from the printed book reduced VAT rules.

This decision does seem to go against common sense,but the ECJ’s hands were somewhat tied by the VAT rules which were introduced before e-books existed.

VAT – Domestic legislation versus EC law – a new case

By   March 4, 2015

167634606In the recent case of VDP Dental Laboratory NV & ors (C-144/13) the ECJ has decided that a Dutch exemption for a supply which is ultra vires in respect of EC VAT legislation does not give a right to input tax deduction via EC legislation.  The exemption precludes input VAT recovery, but has the effect of exempting imports and acquisitions into The Netherlands. The ECJ held that a taxable person who is not obliged to charge VAT on the supply of goods because national law (in contravention of Community law) provides for exemption, cannot however, rely on Community law to claim input tax deduction of VAT incurred on purchases incurred in respect of that supply.  What this means though is that the exemption in Dutch domestic legislation means that the taxpayer will not be taxed on importations or acquisitions, irrespective of the VAT treatment in the Member State of an EU supplier.

Broadly, this means that a business cannot take advantage of domestic legislation and/or EC law in circumstances where it may benefit.