Monthly Archives: January 2016

Monthly VAT Round-Up

By   January 29, 2016

update (2)We produce a free monthly email update on all VAT things great and small. It covers events for the last month and flags up significant changes as a result of changes to legislation, HMRC announcements and case law. It also looks at specific VAT issues that may affect a business.

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VAT – Zero rating of charitable building; latest from the courts

By   January 25, 2016

A recent case at the Upper Tribunal (UT): Wakefield College here considered whether certain use of the property disqualified it from zero rating.  construction (2)


In order to qualify for zero rating a building it has to be used for “relevant charitable purpose”

This means that it is used otherwise than in the course or furtherance of a business. In broad terms, where a charity has a building constructed which it can show it will use for wholly non business purposes then the construction work will be zero rated by the contractor. This is the case even if there is a small amount of business activity in the building as long as these can be shown to be insignificant (which is taken to be less than 5% of the activities in the whole building) This so called de-minimis of 5% can be of use to a charity. In order for zero rating to apply the charity must issue a certificate to the builder stating the building will be used for non-business purposes.

Although the UT supported HMRC’s appeal against the F-tT decision there was an interesting comment made by the UT.  The fact that students paid towards the cost of their courses (albeit subsidised) meant that business supplies were made, and the quantum of these fees exceeded the 5% de minimis meant that the construction works were standard rated. This decision was hardly surprising, however, a comment made by the Tribunal chairman The Honourable Mr Justice Barling Judge Colin Bishopp may provide hope for charities in a similar position to the appellant: he stated that it believed that the relevant legislation should be reconsidered, suggesting that;

“… it cannot be impossible to relieve charities of an unintended tax burden while at the same time protecting commercial organisations from unfair competition and preventing abuse …”.

 In my view, it is worth considering the summing up in its entirety as it helpfully summarises the current position and provides some much sought after common sense in this matter:

 “We cannot leave this appeal without expressing some disquiet that it should have reached us at all. It is common ground that the College is a charity, and that the bulk of its income is derived from public funds. Because that public funding does not cover all of its costs it is compelled to seek income from other sources; but its doing so does not alter the fact that it remains a charity providing education for young people. If, by careful management or good fortune, it can earn its further income in one way rather than another, or can keep the extent of the income earned in particular ways below an arbitrary threshold, it can escape a tax burden on the construction of a building intended for its charitable purpose, but if it is unable to do so, even to a trivial extent, it is compelled to suffer not some but all of that tax burden. We think it unlikely that Parliament intended such a capricious system. We consider it unlikely, too, that Parliament would consider it a sensible use of public money for the parties to litigate this dispute twice before the FTT and now twice before this tribunal. We do not blame the parties; the College is obliged to maximise the resources available to it for the pursuit of its charitable activities, just as HMRC are obliged to collect tax which is due. Rather, we think the legislation should be reconsidered. It cannot be impossible to relieve 16 charities of an unintended tax burden while at the same time protecting commercial organisations from unfair competition and preventing abuse”.


If any charities, or charity clients have been denied zero rating on a building project, it will be worthwhile monitoring this development.  Please contact us if you require further information.

VAT legislation – relationship between EU and UK law. A guide

By   January 22, 2016


Legislation non copyrightAs most people will know, UK domestic VAT law is derived from EU legislation, but what is the actual relationship?

It is important to understand how both elements of legislation work in cases of dispute with HMRC as it often provides additional ammunition.


Most Member States already had a system of VAT before joining the EU but for some countries VAT had to be introduced together with membership of the EU. When the UK joined the EU in 1972 it replaced two taxes; purchase tax and selective employment tax with VAT.

In 1977, the Council of the European Communities sought to harmonise the national VAT systems of its Member States by issuing the Sixth Directive to provide a uniform basis of assessment and replacing the Second Directive promulgated in 1967.

Council Directive 2006/112/EC (the VAT Directive) sets out the infrastructure for a common VAT system which each Member State is required to implement by means of its own domestic legislation. This important Directive codifies into one piece of legislation all the amendments to the original Sixth Directive, thus clarifying EU VAT legislation currently in force.


The aim of the VAT Directive is to harmonise the indirect tax within the EU, and it specifies that VAT rates must be within a certain range. The basic aims are:

  • Harmonisation of VAT law
  • Harmonisation of content and layout of the VAT declaration
  • Regulation of; accounting, providing a common legal accounting framework
  • Common framework for detailed description of invoices and receipts
  • Regulation of accounts payable
  • Regulation of accounts receivable
  • Standard definition of national accountancy and administrative terms

EU Statements

There are four types of EU statements:

  • Regulations – Are binding in their entirety and have general effect to all EU Member States. They are directly applicable in the UK legal system.
  • Directives – Are binding as to result and their general effect is specific to named EU countries. The form and methods of compliance are left to the addressees.
  • Decisions – Are binding in their entirety and are specific to an EU country, commercial enterprise or private individual.
  • Recommendations and Opinions – Are not binding and are directed to specific subjects on which the Council’s or Commission’s advice has been sought.

EU Legislation as part of UK Legislation

EU law is made effective for UK legislation via European Communities Act 1972 section 2. The effects of EU law as regards UK VAT legislation is summarised as follows.

Direct effect

The Court of Justice has held “wherever the provisions of a directive appear … to be unconditional and sufficiently precise, those provisions may … be relied upon as against any national provision which is incompatible with the directive insofar as the provisions define rights which individuals are able to assert against the state” (Case: Becker).  Also in UFD Ltd it was stated that “in all appeals involving issues of liability, the Tribunal should consider the relevant provisions of the Council directives to ensure that the provisions of the UK legislation are consistent therewith”.

Primacy of EU Directives over UK legislation

A UK court which is to apply provisions of EU law is under a duty to give full effect to those provisions, if necessary refusing of its own motion to apply any conflicting provision of national legislation.

Interpretation of UK law

If UK VAT legislation is unclear or ambiguous, Tribunals are “entitled to have regard to the provisions of the relevant EU Directive in order to assist in resolving any ambiguity in the construction of the provisions under consideration’ (Case: English-Speaking Union of the Commonwealth).

Legal principles

In implementing the common VAT structure, domestic legislation is required to recognise certain legal principles.

Examples of some of these are the principle of:

  • Equality of citizens
  • Subsidiarity and proportionality
  • Non-discrimination on grounds of nationality
  • Fiscal neutrality
  • Legal certainty and the protection of legitimate expectations.

Practical application for most taxpayers

Practically, a result of the above is that taxpayers are regularly able to recover VAT (plus interest) paid to HMRC in error in cases where the UK domestic legislation has not implemented EU law correctly.  However, HMRC has no right to recovery where VAT has been under-collected as a result of inappropriate implementation of the EU legislation.


VAT – How To Survive The Enforcement Powers

By   January 19, 2016

enforcementPenalties for VAT infringements are draconian and there is still an alarming array of enforcement powers to trap the unwary. By being conscious of the problem areas and planning carefully, it should be possible to avoid becoming an unwitting victim of the system. This article focuses mainly on VAT compliance.

Late Registration

You must notify HMRC if your turnover exceeds £82,000 in twelve months, or if you believe it will exceed £82,000 in the next thirty days.  The penalty for failing to notify liability falls within the single penalty system and it could be up to 100% of the VAT due.  There is no penalty if the taxpayer has a reasonable excuse for not registering at the correct time.

After Registration

Every VAT registered business needs to ensure that it is organised to deal with VAT correctly and on time:

  • Is there someone in your business who controls VAT accounting and ensures that new products etc. are properly dealt with for VAT purposes?
  • Do your business systems ensure that all output tax and input tax are properly recorded?
  • Are systems in force to ensure that proper evidence is obtained to support VAT input tax claims?
  • Where VAT is not charged on supplies made, is this correct in law and is proper evidence retained?
  • Are there systems in force to ensure that non‐deductible input tax is not reclaimed, e.g. most VAT on motor cars, or business entertaining?
  • Is VAT always considered before contracts are made?

Default surcharge

A default occurs if HMRC has not received your return and all the VAT due by the due date. The relevant date is the date that cleared funds reach HMRC’s bank account. If the due date is not a working day, payment must be received on the last preceding working day.  .

Consequence of default

You receive a warning after the first default ‐ the Surcharge Liability Notice (SLN). Do not ignore this notice. If you fail to pay the VAT due on the due date within the next five quarters, the surcharge will be 2% of the outstanding tax. The surcharge increases to 5% for the next default, and then by 5% increments to a maximum of 15%.  Each default, whether it is late submission of the return or late payment, extends the surcharge liability period, but only late payment incurs a surcharge.

Errors on returns and claims

Incorrect returns incur a penalty under the following penalties apply:

  • An error, when reasonable care not taken: 30%;
  • An error which is deliberate, but not concealed: 70%;
  • An error, which is deliberate and concealed: 100%.

If a taxpayer takes ‘reasonable care,’ then no penalty is due.

More on errors here

Retention of records

The period for retaining records is six years. There is a fixed penalty of £500 for breaching this requirement.

Default interest

  • Interest on tax will arise in certain circumstances, including cases where:
  • An assessment is made to recover extra tax for a period for which a return has already been made (this includes errors voluntarily disclosed)
  • A person has failed to notify his or her liability to register (or made late notification), and an assessment covering a period longer than three months is made to recover the tax due
  • An invoice purporting to include VAT has been issued by a person not authorised to issue tax invoices.

The rate of interest is set by the Treasury and is broadly in line with commercial rates of interest.


Appeals against penalties may be made to the independent tribunal. The tribunal has powers of mitigation in appropriate circumstances. Where the appeal is against the imposition of interest, penalties, or surcharge, the tax must be paid before an appeal can be heard. The tribunal is given the authority to increase assessments that are established as being for amounts less than they should have been.

Access to information

HMRC has extensive powers to obtain information. It can enter premises and gain access to computerised systems and remove documents. A walking possession agreement can arise where distress is levied against a person’s goods.

The sting in the tail

None of the above penalties or interest is allowable as a deduction when computing income for corporation or income tax purposes.

Action points

If you receive a VAT assessment (because you have not submitted a return), you must check it and notify HMRC within thirty days if it understates your liability

Make sure your systems and records are adequate to enable you to establish the gross amount of tax relating to a VAT period. The preparation of annual accounts cannot be regarded as a safeguard against penalties

Make sure you get your VAT return and payment in on time.

Some of these penalties may not apply if there is a reasonable excuse, but the scope is limited and should not be relied upon

If in doubt, contact us. It is important that you seek professional advice as early as possible.

VAT Flat Rate Scheme (FRS)– New judgement on retrospective application

By   January 14, 2016

167634606In the recent case of KDT Management Ltd an appeal against a decision by HMRC not to allow the appellant to retrospectively apply the percentage of turnover it says was appropriate to its business under the FRS instead of the one it says it mistakenly chose was considered.

HMRC issued an assessment to recover VAT which was alleged to have been omitted from the appellant’s returns because it did not apply certain increases of rate to its turnover under the FRS of accounting for VAT.

It was also an appeal against a decision by HMRC not to allow the appellant to retrospectively apply the percentage of turnover it says was appropriate to its business under the FRS instead of the one it says it mistakenly chose.

The decision was that the appeal against the assessments to VAT and interest were upheld.  The appeal against the decision not to backdate was also upheld and the decision was cancelled.

Please contact us if you have been in dispute over the rate applicable on a FRS, or if you think you may be using an inappropriate percentage. This is likely to mainly affect small businesses.

Details of the FRS here

Small business: Should I register for VAT voluntarily?

By   January 12, 2016

OK, so why would a business choose to VAT register when it need not (let’s say it’s turnover is under the VAT registration limit of £82,000)?  Isn’t it best just to avoid the VATman if at all possible? local-business (2)

This is not an article which considers whether a business MUST register, but rather it looks at whether it is a good idea to register on a voluntary basis if it is not compulsory.

As a general rule of thumb; if you sell to the public (B2C) then probably not.  If you sell to other VAT registered businesses (B2B) then it is more likely to be beneficial.

If you sell B2B to customers overseas it is almost certain that VAT registration would be a good thing, as it would if you supply zero rated goods or services in the UK.  This is because there is no output tax on sales, but full input tax recovery on costs; VAT nirvana!  A distinction must be made between zero rated supplies and exempt supplies.  If only exempt supplies are made, a business cannot register for VAT.

Apart from the economic considerations, we have found that small businesses are sometimes put off  VAT registration by the added compliance costs and the potential penalties being in the VAT club can bring.  Weighed against this, there is a certain kudos or prestige for a business and it does convey a degree of seriousness of a business undertaking. It may also make life simpler (and reduce costs) if a business buys goods or services from other EC Member States.  We also come across situations where a customer will only deal with suppliers who are VAT registered.

The key to registration is that, once registered, a business may recover the VAT it incurs on its expenditure (called input tax).  So let us look at some simple examples of existing businesses for comparison:

Example 1

A business sells office furniture to other VAT registered business (B2B).

It buys stock for 10,000 plus VAT of 2,000

It incurs VAT on overheads (rent, IT, telephones, light and heat etc) of 2,000 plus 400 VAT

It makes sales of 20,000.

If not registered, its profit is 20,000 less 12,000 less 2400 = 5600

If VAT registered, the customer can recover any VAT charged, so VAT is not a disincentive to him.

Sales 20,000 plus 4000 VAT (paid to HMRC)

Input tax claimed = 2400 (offset against payment to HMRC)

Result: the VAT is neutral and not a cost, so profit is 20,000 less 12,000 = 8000, a saving of 2400 as compared to the business not being registered.  The 2400 clearly equals the input tax recovered on expenditure.


Example 2

A “one-man band consultant” provides advice B2B and uses his home as his office.  All of his clients are able to recover any VAT charged.

He has very little overheads that bear VAT as most of his expenditure is VAT free (staff, train fares, use of home) so his input tax amounts to 100.

He must weigh up the cost (time/admin etc) of VAT registration against reclaiming the 100 of input tax.  In this case it would probably not be worthwhile VAT registering (although the Flat Rate Scheme may be attractive, please see article here


Example 3

A retailer sells adult clothes to the public from a shop. She pays VAT on the rent and on the purchase of stock as well as the usual overheads.  The total amount she pays is 20,000 with VAT of 4000.

Her sales total 50,000.

If not VAT registered her profit is 50,000 less 24,000 = 26,000

If VAT registered she will treat the value of sales as VAT inclusive, so of the 50,000 income 8333 represents VAT she must pay to HMRC.  She is able to offset her input tax of 4000.

This means that her profit if VAT registered is 50,000 less the VAT of 8333  = 41,667 less the net costs of 20,000 = 21,667.

Result: a loss of 4333 in profit.

As may be seen, if a business sells to the public it is nearly always disadvantageous to be voluntarily VAT registered. It may be possible to increase her prices by circa 20%, but for a lot of retailers, this is unrealistic.


Intending traders

If a business has not started trading, but is incurring input tax on costs, it is possible to VAT register even though it has not made any taxable supplies.  This is known by HMRC as an intending trader registration.  A business will need to provide evidence of the intention to trade and this is sometimes a stumbling block, especially in the area of land and property.  Choosing to register before trading may avoid losing input tax due to the time limits (very generally a business can go back six months for services and four years for goods on hand to recover the VAT).  Also cashflow will be improved if input tax is recovered as soon as possible.



Careful consideration should be given to the VAT status of a small or start-up business.  This may be particularly relevant to start-ups as they typically incur more costs as the business begins and the recovery of the VAT on these costs may be important.

This is a basic guide and there are many various situations that require further consideration of the benefits of voluntary VAT registration.  We would, of course, be pleased to help.

UK VAT Registration For Overseas Businesses – A Guide

By   January 5, 2016

2013-12-01 Bury St Eds Xmas Fair0018 (2)When must an overseas business register for VAT in the UK?

This question is increasingly being asked by overseas entities which do business in the UK.  So what are the requirements, and what choices are there?


An overseas business must VAT register in the UK if:

 • it makes any taxable supplies of goods and services in the UK in the course of furtherance of his business. These supplies could be of any description, but commonly are the sale of goods which are physically located in the UK and the operation of certain events that take place in the UK.

• the business is registered for VAT in another EC country, and it sells and delivers goods in the UK to customers who are not VAT-registered;so-called ‘distance sales’  (details here) and the value of those distance sales exceeds the relevant threshold (currently £70,000).

• it acquires goods in the UK directly from a VAT-registered supplier in another EC country and the total value of the acquisitions exceeds the acquisitions threshold.

• it makes a claim under the EC 8th Directive or EC 13th Directive and subsequently supplies the relevant goods in the UK.

If these tests are met, a supply is made in the UK. It does not matter in which country where the business “belongs” or where it’s staff or technical resources are located.  A guide to the place of belonging  here.

For VAT purposes, the UK includes the territorial sea of the UK (ie waters within twelve nautical miles of the coastline).

There is no need to register if the only UK supplies are those on which the customer is liable to account for any VAT due under the ‘reverse charge’ procedure.

An overseas trader may also be registered if:

• he has started in business but is not yet making taxable supplies, provided he can show the intention of making taxable supplies in the future as part of his business; or

• his turnover is below the threshold, provided he can prove to HMRC that he is carrying on a business for VAT purposes and making taxable supplies.

Consequences of registration

An overseas business which is registered or required to be registered for VAT in the UK must account for VAT in respect of those supplies and acquisitions taking place in the UK. It is also liable to VAT on imports of any goods into the UK and on the acquisition in the UK of excisable goods or of new means of transport from another EC country. It also usually means that any VAT incurred in the UK may be recovered as input tax. This is particularly relevant if import VAT is incurred on importing goods into the UK.

Registration options available 

An overseas trader who is not normally resident in the UK, does not have a UK establishment and, in the case of a company, is not incorporated here, and which is required or entitled to be registered in the UK can normally choose between three registration options:

(1) It may appoint a VAT representative who will be jointly and severally liable for any VAT debts. The overseas trader must still complete a VAT registration form. In addition to this, both the overseas trader and the VAT representative must complete a Form VAT 1TR. It is understood that, in practice, very few businesses are prepared to provide the services of a VAT representative because they are unwilling to become liable for any VAT debts of the overseas trader.

(2) It may appoint an agent to deal with the VAT affairs. The agent cannot be held responsible to HMRC for any VAT debts and HMRC reserve the right not to deal with any particular agent. (In some cases, HMRC could insist that a tax representative is appointed although this cannot now be done where the overseas trader is based in a country where certain mutual assistance arrangements exist.) The overseas trader must still complete a VAT registration form. In addition, HMRC will need a letter of authority. A suggested letter of authority approved by HMRC is:

(Insert principal’s name) of (insert principal’s address) hereby appoints (insert name of UK agent or employee) of (insert address of UK agent or employee) to act as agent for the purpose of dealing with all their legal obligations in respect of Value Added Tax. 

This letter authorises the above-named agent to sign VAT return forms 100 and any other document needed for the purpose of enabling the agent or employee to comply with the VAT obligations of the principal. 

Signed (insert principal’s signature) 

Date (insert date) 

(3) It may deal with all the VAT obligations (including registration, returns and record-keeping) itself. To register, the overseas business should contact the Aberdeen VAT office at Ruby House, 8 Ruby Place, Aberdeen, AB10 1ZP (Tel: 01224 404807/818). This is known as a Non-Established Taxable Person (NETP) registration.


There can be confusion around this matter, not only from a technical aspect, but with an overseas business’ unfamiliarity with the UK authority’s requirements and also possibly language and communication problems.  Additionally, the practical aspects of identifying the need to VAT register in the UK and the completion of forms etc can delay matters.  Of course, just like any other VAT registration, there are penalties for not registering, or not registering at the appropriate time.  There is also the reluctance of certain overseas businesses to deal with UK VAT at all.  Unfortunately, a head in the sand attitude just stores up problems for the future.  We have been called on to firefight on this topic a number of times, and it rarely ends well.