Monthly Archives: September 2015

VAT Payment Problems – Q & As

By   September 29, 2015

If you can’t pay your VAT bill, please do not put your head in the sand, the problem will not go away.  Here are some answers to the most commonly asked VAT payment problems. payment-issues

Q: I have received a demand notice for payment of VAT. Why?

A: HMRC have not received payment of the VAT liability that is described in the demand notice. You should therefore pay the outstanding debt without delay so as to avoid further recovery action. HMRC take prompt action to recover debts.

Q: I am not able to pay the debt immediately because of a temporary cash-flow problem. What should I do?

A: You should make urgent contact with your bank or your financial adviser to explore means of overcoming these temporary financial difficulties.

Q: I have consulted the bank/financial adviser but they are unable to help. What else can I do?

A: Without further delay contact the Regional Debt Management Unit whose address appears on the demand notice. They may be able to help you by agreeing a brief period in which to pay the debt. They are usually helpful and will consider carefully all practical options for settlement. However, if these do not produce a solution or they do not receive a response to their request for payment, they may, like other creditors, take action to recover the money they are owed.

Q: What is the Default Surcharge?

A: Default Surcharge is a civil penalty to encourage businesses to submit their VAT returns and pay the tax due on time.

Q: When will a Default Surcharge be issued?

A: A business is in default if it sends in its VAT return and or the VAT due late. No surcharge is issued the first time a business is late but a warning (a Surcharge Liability Notice) is issued. Subsequent defaults within the following twelve months (the “surcharge period”) may result in a surcharge assessment. Each time that a default occurs the surcharge period will be extended. There is no liability to a surcharge if a nil or repayment return is submitted late, or the VAT due is paid on time but the return is submitted late (although a default is still recorded).

Q: How much is it?

A: The surcharge is calculated as a percentage of the VAT that is unpaid at the due date. If no return is submitted the amount of VAT due will be assessed and the surcharge based on that amount. The rate is set at 2 per cent for the first default following the Surcharge Liability Notice, and rises to 5 per cent, 10 per cent and 15 per cent for subsequent defaults within the surcharge period.  A surcharge assessment is not issued at the 2 per cent and 5 per cent rates if it is calculated at less than £200 but a default is still recorded and the surcharge period extended. At the 10 per cent and 15 per cent the surcharge will be the greater of the calculated amount or £30.

Q: What sort of assessments are sent out?

A: An assessment may be issued if a VAT return is not submitted by the due date. The amount may be based on previous returns. If a business does not submit its returns time after time, the assessment value will increase. An officer may also issue an assessment after a visit, if they have found errors in the amount of tax declared on previous returns.

Both types are included in the traders’ debt and are collected in the normal way if they are not paid promptly.


There are a number of schemes available which may help cashflow or possibly reduce the amount of VAT you pay.

Cash Accounting – where you only pay VAT to HMRC when you have received payment from your customer.
Annual Accounting – where you make set monthly payments and make one return a year with an adjusting payment.
Flat Rate Scheme – where you pay a set percentage of your turnover rather than calculating output tax less input tax.
Bad Debt Relief – where you are able to reclaim VAT relief on your bad debts.

Please contact us if VAT payments are proving a problem for your business.  Negotiation with HMRC is possible.

VAT – Proof of evidence of Intra-EC supplies

By   September 23, 2015

Map EC

A B2B supply of goods from one Member State to another (a dispatch) is VAT free (with the recipient dealing with acquisition tax in the Member State of receipt). However, in order to VAT free treatment to apply evidence that the goods have moved cross-border must be provided and satisfy the authorities in the Member State of dispatch.

The level of evidence and type of documents required to support the right to VAT free treatment varies significantly between Member States. This has led to confusion and difficulties for businesses.

As a result the EC VAT Expert Group* have, this week, produced a paper (paper 46) named “‘Proof of evidence of Intra-EU supplies’” Here: 46 – Proof of IC Supplies

As well as identifying the wide discretion afforded to Member States as to the type of documents required, it notes that this discretion and lack of clarity often leads to disproportionate compliance burdens for businesses involved in the cross border supply of goods. This also results in the fundamental principle of fiscal neutrality and the free movements of goods being impaired.

In summary

 The Group’s findings may be summarised:

  •  Diversity of documentation

Most Member States rely on a myriad of documents which may not be listed in national legislation. Such diversity is a problem and may require businesses to provide documentary evidence that cannot be reasonably obtained. This practice does not reconcile with principles established by the ECJ. The paper adds that tax authorities tend to focus on certain formalities and not permit alternative evidence.

  •  Local initiatives

The paper notes that based on Article 131 of the VAT Directive, and often in light of the fight against fraud, tax authorities are introducing local initiatives. The compatibility of these with the EC framework may be questioned and is causing increasing burdens and costs on legitimate taxpayers.

  •  Importance given by tax authorities to the “knowledge test”

The paper considers that the level of demand from tax authorities to document intra-EC trade should not be upgraded because of fraud cases. Documentary evidence is of a type fraudsters would typically provide. The wide margin of interpretation left to tax authorities and judges regarding concepts such as “good faith” means that further guidance may be required. This, however, should not extend up to a requirement for suppliers to show evidence to authorities that their customers acted in good faith.

  •  Diversity of practices; timing versus legal certainty

The diversity of approaches across EC Member States generates costs and increase risks for businesses operating in different Member States.



The paper considered some recent ECJ case law on cross-border transactions and concluded VAT free treatment should be granted to the supplier when:

1)    It demonstrates that the transaction meets the substantive criteria of that provision, namely that it is entered into with another taxable person in a Member State other than that in which dispatch or transport of the goods begins. This would be done with the supplier holding at least three non-contradictory documents or elements certifying the transport or dispatch to another Member State.

2)    In this context, a reasonable customer assessment could be expected from taxpayers when tax authorities audit whether the transactions are taking place in the context of fraud and/or abuse.


Next Steps

It is recommended that new guidance could be adopted in an Implementing Regulation or an explanatory note to the relevant Articles in the VAT Directive could be prepared by the Commission.

It will be interesting to see if these recommendations are adopted.  It would make life a lot more straightforward for businesses who trade cross-border in the EC.  Although the UK has one of the most practical regimes in this respect, even genuine movements of goods from the UK can result in an unexpected and unwelcome VAT charge because of a lack of specific documentation.

* The VAT Expert Group assists and advises the European Commission on VAT matters. Details here 


By   September 11, 2015

MASTER LOGO - LARGE:Layout 1Marcus Ward Consultancy Ltd is pleased to announce the acquisition of the professional services practice of the consultancy called: VATAdvice.  This longstanding and highly regarded practice based in Cambridgeshire is owned by Les Howard a well-known face in the VAT world.  Les will continue his VAT support for charities and involvement with the Tax Tribunal.

Director Marcus Ward commented “There is a definite synergy between the two companies and I am pleased that I can continue to help Les’ clients with the highest level of service that I know they have been accustomed to.  This will expand the practice’s existing offering to accountancy and legal firms. We are able to continue to offer VAT advice in the specific areas of; land and property, international transactions, and not for profit bodies as well as dealing with any other VAT issues. We are happy that Les has chosen us to carry on looking after his numerous clients and we aim to make the handover as smooth as possible for all of them”.

Marcus Ward Consultancy Ltd was formed two years ago to help businesses through the increasingly complex VAT regime. It has grown quickly in London and East Anglia and has clients across the world. It is a professional practice committed to providing the highest quality indirect tax advice in a timely and understandable way.  It has expertise in both EC and UK legislation and over 25 years of indirect tax experience.

It is extremely commercially minded and works on the principle of “Leave VAT to us and you can concentrate on growing your business”.

It prides itself in defending businesses against unfair attacks from HMRC.


Telephone: 07748 117935


Charities and VAT

By   September 7, 2015


Surely charities don’t have to pay taxes?

This is a common myth, and while charities do enjoy some VAT reliefs, they are also liable for a number of VAT charges.

Charities have a very hard time of it in terms of VAT, since not only do they have to contend with complex legislation and accounting (which other businesses, no matter how large or complicated do not) but VAT represents a real and significant cost.

By their very nature, charities carry out “non-business” activities which means that VAT is not recoverable on the expenses of carrying out these activities.  Additionally, many charities are involved in exempt supplies, eg; fundraising events, property letting, and certain welfare and educational services, which also means a restriction on the ability to recover VAT on attributable costs.

These two elements are distinct and require separate calculations which are often very convoluted.  The result of this is that charities bear an unfair burden of VAT, especially so since the sector carries out important work in respect of; health and welfare, poverty, education and housing etc.  Although there are some specific reliefs available to charities, these are very limited and do not, by any means, compensate for the overall VAT cost charities bear.

Another issue is legal uncertainty over what constitutes “business income” for charities, especially the VAT status of grants.  It’s worth bearing in mind here the helpful comment in the EC case of Tolsma translated as: “…the question is whether services carried on by [a person] were carried on for the payment or simply with the payment”.

Many charities depend on donations which, due to the economic climate have fallen in value at a time when there is a greater demand on charities from struggling individuals and organisations.

What can be done?

  • Ensure any applicable reliefs are taken advantage of.
  • If significant expenditure is planned, ensure that professional advice is sought to mitigate any tax loss.
  • Review the VAT position to ensure that the most appropriate partial exemption methods and non-business apportionment is in place.
  • Review any land and property transactions. These are high value and some reliefs are available. Additionally it is possible to carry out planning to improve the VAT position of a property owning charity.
  • Review VAT procedures to ensure that VAT is declared correctly. Penalties for even innocent errors have increased recently and are incredibly swingeing.
  • Consider a VAT “healthcheck” which often identifies problems and planning opportunities.

We have considerable expertise in the not for profit sector and would be pleased to discuss any areas of concern, or advise on ways of reducing the impact of VAT on a charity.

More detail on VAT and Charities for guidance

Business activities

It is important not to confuse the term ‘trading’ as frequently used by a charity to describe its non-charitable commercial fund-raising activities (usually carried out by a trading subsidiary) with ‘business’ as used for VAT purposes. Although trading activities will invariably be business activities, ‘business’ for VAT purposes can have a much wider application and include some or all of the charity’s primary or charitable activities.

Registration and basic principles

Any business (including a charity and NFP entity or its trading subsidiary) that makes taxable supplies in excess of the VAT registration threshold must register for VAT. Taxable supplies are business transactions that are liable to VAT at the standard rate, reduced rate or zero rate.

If a charity’s income from taxable supplies is below the VAT registration threshold it can voluntarily register for VAT but a charity that makes no taxable supplies (either because it has no business activities or because its supplies or income are exempt from VAT) cannot register.

Charging VAT

Where a VAT-registered charity makes supplies of goods and services in the course of its business activities, the VAT liability of those supplies is, in general, determined in the normal way as for any other business. Even if VAT-registered, a charity should not charge VAT on any non-business supplies or income.

Reclaiming VAT

This is a two stage process. The first stage in determining the amount of VAT which a VAT-registered charity can reclaim is to eliminate all the VAT incurred that relates to its non-business activities. It cannot reclaim any VAT it is charged on purchases that directly relate to non-business activities. It will also not be able to reclaim a proportion of the VAT on its general expenses (eg; telephone, IT and electricity) that relate to those non-business activities.

Once this has been done, the remaining VAT relating to the charity’s business activities is input tax.

The second stage: It can reclaim all the input tax it has been charged on purchases which directly relate to standard-rated, reduced-rated or zero-rated goods or services it supplies.

It cannot reclaim any of the input tax it has been charged on purchases that relate directly to exempt supplies.

It also cannot claim a proportion of input tax on general expenses (after adjustment for non-business activities) that relates to exempt activities unless this amount, together with the input tax relating directly to exempt supplies, is below the minimis limit.

Business and non-business activities

An organisation such as a charity that is run on a non-profit-making basis may still be regarded as carrying on a business activity for VAT purposes. This is unaffected by the fact that the activity is performed for the benefit of the community. It is therefore important for a charity to determine whether any particular transactions are ‘business’ or ‘non-business’ activities. This applies both when considering registration (if there is no business activity a charity cannot be registered and therefore cannot recover any input tax) and after registration.  If registered, a charity must account for VAT on taxable supplies it makes by way of business. Income from any non-business activities is not subject to VAT and affects the amount of VAT reclaimable as input tax.

‘Business’ has a wide meaning for VAT purposes based upon Directive 2006/112/EC (which uses the term ‘economic activity’ rather than ‘business’), UK VAT legislation and decisions by the Courts and VAT Tribunals.  An activity may still be business if the amount charged does no more than cover the cost to the charity of making the supply or where the charge made is less than cost. If the charity makes no charge at all the activity is unlikely to be considered business.

An area of particular difficulty for charities when considering whether their activities are in the course of business is receipt of grant funding.

Partial Exemption

The VAT a business incurs on running costs is called input tax.  For most businesses this is reclaimed on VAT returns from HMRC if it relates to standard rated or zero rated sales that that business makes.  However, a business which makes exempt sales may not be in a position to recover all of the input tax which it incurred.  A business in this position is called partly exempt.  Generally, any input tax which directly relates to exempt supplies is irrecoverable.  In addition, an element of that business’ general overheads are deemed to be in part attributable to exempt supplies and a calculation must be performed to establish the element which falls to be irrecoverable.

Input tax which falls within the overheads category must be apportioned according to a so called; partial exemption method.  The “Standard Method” requires a comparison between the value of taxable and exempt supplies made by the business.  The calculation is; the percentage of taxable supplies of all supplies multiplied by the input tax to be apportioned which gives the element of VAT input tax which may be recovered.  Other partial exemption methods (so called Special Methods) are available by specific agreement with HMRC.

My flowchart may be of use: partial exemption flowchart 

De Minimis

There is however relief available for a business in the form of de minimis limits.  Broadly, if the total of the irrecoverable directly attributable (to exempt suppliers) and the element of overhead input tax which has been established using a partial exemption method falls to be de minimis, all of that input tax may be recovered in the normal way.  The de minimis limit is currently £7,500 per annum of input tax and one half of all input tax for the year.  As a result, after using the partial exemption method, should the input tax fall below £7,500 and 50% of all input tax for a year it is recoverable in full.  This calculation is required every quarter (for businesses which render returns on a quarterly basis) with a review at the year end, called an annual adjustment carried out at the end of a business’ partial exemption year.  The quarterly de minimis is consequently £1,875 of exempt input tax.

Should the de minimis limits be breached, all input tax relating to exempt supplies is irrecoverable.


One may see that this is a complex area for charities and not for profit entities to deal with. Certainly a review is almost always beneficial, as are discussions regarding partial exemption methods.

Please click here for more information on our services for charities.

Some Odd VAT Facts

By   September 3, 2015

The weird side of VAT

Reagan_Facts_Stupid-300x300_editedWe all know that the VAT rules throw up some oddities which are mainly the result of new products, technology and the way people live their lives now. I do think that the law needs a significant, consistent overhaul rather than a piecemeal approach, but let’s just consider some of the weird results the present system throws up. This is a MOSS* for all tabloid journalists….

* Mini One-Stop Shop

An odd rule applies to gingerbread men. No VAT is charged if the figure has two chocolate spots for its eyes, but any chocolate-based additions, such as buttons or a belt, mean VAT is payable.

The sale of a horse is standard rated. However, the sale of a dead one (for horse meat) is zero rated. I wouldn’t really want to dwell on the VAT planning aspects of this…

A downloaded purchase of the bible is standard rated while “saucy” top shelf magazines are VAT free.

So that’s what it’s called….. From HMRC guidance – “For the purposes of establishing the place of supply of services, stallion nominations (The right to nominate a mare to be covered by a stallion in one breeding season) and the covering of mares is treated as ‘work carried out on goods’”.

Food for wild birds is zero rated while food for caged birds is at 20%.

Well, what do you know?! Jaffa cakes are cakes, Pringles are crisps and now Lucozade Sport is a beverage. That’s what the Upper Tribunal has ruled, so the drink is now subject to VAT. So now we know.

(And since this is VAT, we have to mention Jaffa cakes – again!) It was ruled as a fact that cakes go hard when stale whereas biscuits go soft.

Food that is too hot to eat can be classed as cold food for VAT purposes.

Orange juice is zero rated. Lemon juice is zero rated. Mix them, and you have a standard rated product.

Peanuts in shells are zero rated, salted peanuts are standard rated.

If your shop is burgled, it’s best to let the robbers take your stock. Goods lost to theft are not subject to VAT, but if cash (which customers have paid for goods) is taken from the till a VATable supply has still been made and VAT is due on it.

The sales of kangaroos are standard-rated but kangaroo steaks are zero-rated.

Rabbits are zero-rated, even if sold as pets. Sales of pets are standard rated.

The sales of counterfeit (illegal) goods are subject to 20% VAT, but the sale of counterfeit banknotes are not.

There was a planning scheme called the golden toothbrush, but it didn’t matter what colour the toothbrush was.

Ferret food has recently been ruled to be subject to 20% when it was VAT free from 1973.

Caviar is deemed a necessity in terms of VAT, while orange squash is a luxury item.

Buying a coffin is standard-rated but hiring a hearse is VAT free.

Children’s clothing with rabbit and gazelle fur (and even dog skin) is zero-rated but if it has Tibetan goat fur it is subject to VAT.

Tuition provided by a sole practitioner is exempt, but if the tutor incorporates then their supplies become standard-rated.

In the Spearmint Rhino case it was ruled that there is no VAT on lap dances.

Back Camera









Under some VAT schemes, zero rated and exempt supplies are subject to VAT (and even some which are “Outside the scope of UK VAT”).

Dog food for a poodle is subject to VAT but exactly the same food can be zero rated if it is for a Labrador.

– See more at: