Monthly Archives: October 2015

VAT – An important ECJ case which will affect charities – Sveda

By   October 28, 2015

A benefit to charities?woodland b&w

In the case of Sveda (C-126/14) which was recently heard by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) the issue was whether input tax was recoverable on the construction of a recreational woodland path which ended at a shop that Sveda owned and made taxable supplies from. Full case here

90% of the construction costs were met by Grant received from the Lithuanian Ministry of Agriculture on the condition that the path was made available free of charge to the public for a period of five years.  There was no dispute that the grant was outside the scope income for Sveda.

The authorities disallowed the VAT claimed on 100% of the costs on the grounds there was no link to taxable supplies since free access is a non-economic activity because there was no consideration paid to use the path.  Alternatively, there was a contention that only 10% of the VAT should be reclaimed, since the company only met 10% of the cost.

Sveda argued that, although the path could be used free of charge, the purpose was increase taxable sales from its shop (food, drink and souvenirs). This meant there was a link between the VAT incurred and its economic activity as a whole.

The ECJ rejected the view that the input tax should be blocked in its entirety or in part. Its view was that the expenditure was incurred with the intention of carrying out an economic taxable activity, even if there was no direct link to any one specific supply and use of the path was free. The VAT was overhead VAT. No exempt supplies (that would break the chain of deduction) took place.

So, although the path was used for a non-business activity (free access) the ECJ deemed that the input tax incurred on the costs of building the path was deductible. As there was a link to economic activities the VAT is treated as overhead and, in this case, fully recoverable.

Although Sveda is a commercial company and the decision will no doubt be of assistance to commercial entities, there may be a significant impact on charities and NFP organisations.  This judgment highlights the basic right to deduct VAT where a link to taxable supplies made by a taxable person can be demonstrated. It does not matter whether the link is to one taxable supply or to all the taxable economic activities. The non-business use of the asset did not prevent recovery.  The outcome would no doubt have been different if Sveda was only involved in building the path and just providing free access to it without also selling items form the shop.

On a personal note, this case has echoes of one I took to Tribunal for The Imperial War Museum – with a similar successful outcome. HMRC views here

Let’s hope it will be just as useful for the taxpayer as the landmark IWM decision.

If you think you, or a charity you are aware of, or a client of yours may be affected by this decision, please contact me. This may be the case if the charity undertakes both business and non-activities.  I would always counsel that a charity should have its activities reviewed from a VAT perspective.  There are usually savings that could be made.

More on our charity services here


VAT Distance Selling – avoidance structure now deemed ineffective

By   October 26, 2015

The EC Commission’s VAT Committee has recently issued new guidelines to counter perceived avoidance of registering for Distance Selling by b&w

In cases where the supplier is responsible for the delivery of goods B2C; typically mail-order and increasingly goods purchased online (so called “delivered goods”) the supplier is required to VAT register in the EC Member State of its customer(s) once a certain threshold is met. For full details of Distance Selling see here.

In order to avoid having to register, some business have sought to avoid their supply falling within the definition of delivered goods by splitting the sale of goods and the delivery.

The UK raised concerns about the planning and structures put in place to obviate the need to register in other EC Member States.  The VAT Committee has recognised these concerns and has today issued new guidelines on Distance Sales

In addition to the current rules (set out in Articles 32, 33 and 34 of the Principal VAT Directive) a Distance Sale will have occurred when goods have been “dispatched or transported by or on behalf of the supplier” in any cases where the supplier “intervenes directly or indirectly in the transport or dispatch of the goods.” The Committee has stated that it considers that the supplier shall be regarded as having intervened indirectly in the transport or dispatch of the goods if any of the following conditions apply:

(i)              The transport or dispatch of the goods is sub-contracted by the supplier to a third party who delivers the goods to the customer.

(ii)            The dispatch or transport of the goods is provided by a third party but the supplier bears totally or partially the responsibility for the delivery of the goods to the customer.

(iii)          The supplier invoices and collects the transport fees from the customer and further remits them to a third party that arranges the dispatch or transport of the goods.

The Committee further clarified that, in other cases of “intervention,” in particular where the supplier actively promotes the delivery services of a third party to the customer, puts the customer and the third party in contact and provides to the third party the information needed for the delivery of the goods, the seller should likewise be regarded as having “intervened indirectly” in the transport or dispatch of the goods.

Note: These guidelines issued by the VAT Committee are merely views of an advisory committee, they do not constitute an official interpretation of EC law and therefore do not bind the Commission or the Member States. However, the Committee’s views are highly influential and it is likely that Member States will review their procedures and implement these guidelines.

Distance Selling VAT registration can apply retrospectively and assessments and penalties for late registration and underdeclaration of VAT are likely. Also, with different VAT rates applicable in different Member States even if VAT has (incorrectly) been charged at the rate applicable in the Member State where the supplier belongs (rather than the customer) this will likely be at the incorrect rate and recovery of this incorrectly paid VAT will also create issues.

Please contact us if the above changes will affect your business as action must be taken immediately.

VAT – Do as HMRC say…. and if you do… they may still penalise you!

By   October 23, 2015

Can you rely on a VAT ruling received from HMRC when they have been provided with full information in writing? You would like to think so wouldn’t you? And in the past, you have been able to. bus cards B&W

However, the long standing protection from assessments for deemed underdeclared VAT as a result of incorrect advice or actions by HMRC has been withdrawn. This was commonly known as “Sheldon Statement” protection.

HMRC now state that there are some circumstances in which their primary duty is to collect tax according to the statute and it may mean that they can no longer be bound by advice they have given. 

Despite all their publicity of their National Help Line and Advice Centre, plus the clearance procedures introduced to assist taxpayers with their obligations, HMRC can still renege on their advice!

Even if you are fortunate enough to actually get a decision from HMRC (which is increasingly difficult and frustrating) you can’t rely on it.

This makes it even more important to avoid errors and the increased risk of VAT penalties and interest.

This leaves the question as to whom businesses can rely on for accurate, cost effective VAT saving advice and guidance on getting VAT right?  The answer, clearly, is to contact their friendly local VAT consultant…

VAT – Trading in Bitcoin ruled exempt by ECJ

By   October 22, 2015

VAT – Trading in Bitcoin ruled exempt by ECJ

Further to my article of 13 March 2014 here  bitcoin b&w

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court of appeal for EC matters, has ruled that trading in digital, such as bitcoin, is exempt. this is on the basis that they are a method of payment with no intrinsic value, like goods or commodities.  They are therefore covered by the exemption relating to “currency, bank notes and coins used as legal tender” – (Article 135 (1) of the VAT directive). 

This confirms that the UK authority’s approach is correct and that the VAT treatment applied in Germany, Poland and Sweden where those authorities treated the relevant transactions as subject to VAT, is erroneous.

This is good news for the UK as it is a big (if not the biggest) player in the bitcoin sector.

VAT e-audits: A warning

By   October 15, 2015

The increase in the sophistication and use of data analysis software has enabled HMRC and tax authorities worldwide to increase the number of indirect tax VAT e-audits.e-audit B&W

This has led to an increase in, and higher quantum of; assessments, penalties and interest.  The use of more automated resources means that HMRC is capable of auditing a greater amount of information from a greater number of businesses.

Even greater care must be taken now with recording and reporting transactions and the application of calculations such as partial exemption.  The need for accurate and timely records has never been more important. It’s crucial that the basics of compliance are taken care of, as well as seeking advice and reviews on specific issues.

These issues are summarised here

Please contact us if you feel that your VAT systems need to be checked, or if you have any doubts about the accuracy of your business’ indirect tax reporting.

We offer a full range of reviews, from a straightforward healthcheck to a full report on a business.

As the severe motto has it:  Comply or die!

VAT – Latest from the courts on multiple or composite supplies

By   October 14, 2015

In the seemingly endless and conflicting series of cases on whether certain supplies are multiple (at different VAT rates) or single, the latest decision from the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) this week doesn’t really clarify matters.old bailey

In Metropolitan International Schools

The Appellant provided distance learning courses. The courses in question included various trade courses, such as electrical and plumbing courses. One single price was charged for the courses. Customers were provided with manuals that described the particular subject matter on a step-by-step basis. The Appellant’s aim was that the manuals should be entirely comprehensive, and that the information contained in them would be all that was required to enable customers to master the particular subjects. There was no additional provision of classroom tuition. Tutor support was provided via phone calls or emails.  No examinations were provided, nor any degrees, qualifications or diplomas. The courses were generally designed to prepare customers to take third party examinations.

Both the appellant and HMRC contended that the supply of distance learning courses was a single supply. Unsurprisingly, the appellant thought that the supply was of zero rated printed matter, and HMRC contended that it was a single supply of (non-exempt) education so all of the supply was standard rated.

Among others, the main point was whether the Appellant’s supplies of distance learning courses were single or multiple supplies and, assuming that the provision was of one single composite supply, whether that supply was a supply of zero-rated books coupled with ancillary services or standard-rated education (with the books being ancillary).

This meant that, if a single supply, it was necessary to consider which element was predominant.

The FTT held that the end result sought by customers from the supply made by the Appellant was to learn, and to accomplish that aim essentially by reading the vast amount of printed material. The Appellant’s essential supply was the sale of manuals and all of the other features of the supply were appropriately regarded as add-on ancillary functions. The Tribunal therefore held that there was only one single supply in the present case and that it took its nature from that of the principal supply, namely the zero-rated provision of books. Accordingly, the Tribunal held that there was one single supply of zero-rated books.

It should be noted that The Tribunal found it difficult to rationalise all of the relevant case law authorities and to arrive, with confidence, at the correct tests to apply in identifying the nature of the single supply. Indeed, the Tribunal observed that this decision may well lead to appeals to a higher court, and quite possibly a referral to the Court of Justice of the European Union for guidance.

So… are we any further on with this matter?  Not really.

VAT and Insurance – The Riskstop case

By   October 12, 2015

Latest from the courts Insurance B&W

Generally, supplies of insurance and insurance broking are exempt from VAT. However, it is important to look at exactly what is being provided as there is no “blanket” exemption.

The latest First Tier Tribunal case of Riskstop Consulting Limited illustrates the precise tests that must be applied and met in order for exemption to apply.



Changes to the treatment of cross-border movement of goods from 1 May 2106

By   October 8, 2015

How will goods cross EC borders post UCC? export B&W

HMRC has updated its guidance notes on the Union Customs Code (UCC) which is being introduced across the EC on 1 May 2016.

Details here

Main points

  • The UCC is a revision of the Modernised Customs Code (MCC) and there will be a number of changes to how goods cross EU borders.
  • Some transitional arrangements will operate until 2020.
  • Mandatory guarantees for most special procedures and temporary storage (TS) – this only applies to new authorisations.
  • The ability to make some movements under TS rather than national transit or Electronic Transit System (ETS) – formerly New Computerised Transit System (NCTS).
  • The removal of the earlier sales provisions relating to valuation – but there are some transitional arrangements.
  • All communications between customs authorities and economic operators must be electronic.
  • Valuation: The earlier sale facility will be withdrawn and replaced by a last sale only rule. 
  • Under the UCC there will be some circumstances where the provision of a guarantee is mandatory.
  • Royalties and licence fees – Currently, for a royalty fee to be liable to duty it must: relate to the imported goods, and be paid as a condition of sale of those imported goods. Under the UCC, royalties and licence fees will generally be paid as a condition of the sale of the goods and should be included in the customs value.

Some procedures and reliefs will cease or change on 30 April 2016, these are:

  • The €10 waiver of customs duty for free circulation customs declarations – where customs duty is payable no de-minimis exemption will apply – this doesn’t affect any Community System of Duty Reliefs (CSDR) duty reliefs.
  • Goods being declared to Onward Supply Relief (OSR) can only be entered using a full customs declaration or the Simplified Declaration Procedure (SDP).
  • The use of Information Sheets for Special Procedures (INF) documents with an Entry in Declarant’s Records (EIDR).
  • Inward Processing Drawback (IP (D)) and Low Value Bulking Imports (LVBI) authorisations will no longer be valid and these authorisations can’t be used to import goods regardless of any expiry dates shown on your authorisations.
  • Processing under Customs Control (PCC) authorisation holders will be given an Inward Processing (IP) authorisation number which must be used for new importations after 30 April 2016.
  • Type D customs warehousing authorisation holders will be given a new authorisation number with a prefix of C (for type D authorisation), or E (for a type E warehouse with type D rules of assessment) – these must be used for entries to customs warehouses after 1 May 2016, the normal debt rules of assessment will apply.
  • Goods being declared to LVBI will only be entered using an SDP authorisation.

System changes

HMRC expects that some changes to economic operators’ systems will be needed. However this will depend on which authorisations are held and what procedures or processes individual businesses use. A plan for the major IT changes is already in place.

Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI)

There are no changes to the EORI process. It is a requirement for all economic operators (such as businesses) involved in international trade to be registered and to have an EORI number. You’ll need to have an EORI number to be able to apply for any customs authorisations, approvals or decisions. For details on EORI see here


VAT and sales promotion vouchers – Latest

By   October 5, 2015

discount b&w1HMRC has appealed to the Upper Tribunal against the First-Tier Tribunal’s decision in the Associated Newspapers matter. The FTT decided that Associated Newspapers could recover input tax incurred on vouchers given away in its sales promotion schemes.

A previous decision by the FTT that no output tax is due on the vouchers when given away as part of a sales promotion is subject to an appeal and both cases will be heard together this week.

This is likely to have a significant impact on the VAT treatment of vouchers and sales promotion schemes and will be watched with interest by many businesses. The outcome may also affect staff incentive schemes where vouchers are provided.

The interaction between vouchers and VAT has had a turbulent past and the matter is complex.  I hope that we obtain some clarity from the courts before too long.

VAT Land and Property – Why Opt To Tax?

By   October 5, 2015

Opting to tax provides a unique situation in the VAT world. It is the sole example of where a supplier can choose to add VAT to a supply….. or not.Website Images0042

VAT free supplies

The sale or letting of a property is, in most cases, exempt by default. However it is possible to apply the option to tax (OTT) to commercial property. This has the result of turning an exempt supply into a taxable supply at the standard rate.  (It is not possible to OTT a residential property).

Why opt?

Why would a supplier then deliberately choose to add VAT on a supply?

The only purpose of OTT is to enable the optor to recover or avoid input tax incurred in relation to the relevant land or property. The OTT is a decision solely for the property owner or landlord and the purchaser or tenant is not able to affect the OTT unless specific clauses are included in the lease or purchase contracts. Care should be taken to ensure that existing contracts permit the OTT to be taken.  Despite a lot of misleading commentary and confusion, it is worth bearing in mind that the recovery or avoidance of input tax is the sole reason to OTT.

Once made the OTT is usually irrevocable for a 20 year period (although there are circumstances where it may be revisited within six months of it being taken).  There are specific rules for circumstances where the optor has previously made exempt supplies of the relevant land or property. In these cases H M Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) permission must usually be obtained before the option can be made.

Two part process

The OTT is a two part process.

  • The first part is a decision of the business to take the OTT and it is prudent to minute this in Board meeting minutes or similar. Once the decision to OTT is taken VAT may be added to a sale price or rent and a valid tax invoice must be raised.
  • The second part is to formally notify HMRC (after obtaining permission if necessary).  The form on which this is done is a VAT1614A. Here

There can be problems in cases where the OTT is taken, but not formally notified.

The benefit of taking the OTT is the ability to reclaim input tax which would otherwise fall to be irrecoverable. However, one disadvantage is that opting the sale or rent of a property may reduce its marketability as it is likely that entities which are unable to recover VAT would be less inclined to purchase or lease an opted property.

Another is that the payment of VAT by the purchaser may necessitate obtaining additional funding. This may create problems, especially if a VAT charge was not anticipated. Even though, via opting, the VAT charge is usually recoverable, it still has to be funded up front.

Also, an OTT will increase the amount of SDLT payable when a property is sold. This is always an absolute cost.
Transfer Of a Going Concern (TOGC)

I always say that advice should be taken in all property transactions and also in cases of a Transfer of A business as a Going Concern (TOGC). This is doubly important where an opted building is being sold, because TOGC treatment only applies to a sale of property when specific tests are met.

Property transactions are high value and often complex. The cost of getting VAT wrong, or overlooking it can be very swingeing indeed. I have also seen deals being aborted over VAT issues.  For these reasons, please seek VAT advice at an early stage of negotiations.

More on our land and property services here