Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) – A Warning

By   February 25, 2016

The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS)

Alcohol warehouse

HMRC has introduced AWRS in order to tackle what it perceives to be significant alcohol fraud.  If a business sells alcohol to another business it may need to apply to register for the scheme. HMRC will also, at the time of application, make a decision on whether the relevant person is “fit and proper” to trade wholesale.  If it is not, it will be not be permitted to trade at all.

If a business is an existing alcohol wholesaler, or a person starts a new business before 1 April 2016, it is required to apply online for registration between 1 January 2016 and 31 March 2016.  This is very important since new criminal and civil sanctions will be introduced for both wholesalers and trade buyers caught purchasing alcohol from non-registered wholesalers.  Penalties for wholesalers trading without having submitted their application to HMRC will start from 1 April 2016. Penalties for trade buyers who buy alcohol from unregistered wholesalers will start from 1 April 2017. Any alcohol found in the premises of unregistered businesses may be seized whether or not the duty has been paid.

If a new business is started after 31 March 2016, it must apply for registration at least 45 days before it intends to start trading.  It must wait until it gets approval from HMRC before it starts trading.

From 1 April 2017, if a business buys alcohol to sell from a UK wholesaler, it will need to check that whoever it buys from has registered with HMRC and has an AWRS Unique Reference Number (URN). HMRC will provide an online look up service so that trade buyers can ensure the wholesalers they buy from are registered

Who needs to apply to register for AWRS?

A business must apply for approval if it is established in the UK and supplies alcohol to other businesses at, or after, the point at which Excise Duty becomes due by either:

  • selling – this includes to other businesses as well as to the general public
  • arranging the sale
  • offering or exposing for sale

Reminder: If a business is affected by AWRS it will have to apply for it or face penalties for trading without approval.

This flowchart should be of assistance in determining whether a business is required to register for AWRS.

Exclusions to the scheme

  • If a business only sells alcohol to the general public and not to other businesses it will not need to apply
  • Also, the scheme doesn’t apply to individuals purchasing alcohol from retailers for their own use.
  • Businesses which are mainly retailers, but unknowingly or unintentionally make occasional trade sales of alcohol are excluded from AWRS.  This can happen if the purchaser is unknown to a business and the only indication you might have that the purchase is being made for commercial purposes is if a tax invoice is requested.  These sales are known as ‘incidental sales’.
  • Wholesale sales of alcohol between members of the same corporate group are excluded from the scheme and there is no need to register for AWRS to cover these sales (however, if wholesale sales are made outside of the corporate group the companies involved in those sales will need to register).

This incidental sales exemption decision making flowchart will be of assistance.

How to apply for registration

You should apply online using the AWRS service.  You’ll need to have a Government Gateway ID to apply.


 We advise that a business prepares for registration by:

  • ensuring its business records are in order and accessible
  • reviewing its processes and supply chains to ensure that it is sourcing only legitimate alcohol
  • introducing a corporate due diligence policy and procedures to prevent involvement in the illicit market

We can assist with any aspect of this preparation.


HMRC has announced that because of the large number of applications which are expected, it might be several months before you’re given a decision.  So a business has a tight deadline, but HMRC has excused itself from dealing with applications in a timely manner.


When HMRC receive an application they will check it has been completed correctly. If it’s incomplete or unclear HMRC won’t process it until the missing details have been provided.  HMRC will then look at whether the business is ‘fit and proper’ to trade wholesale.

If a business fails the ‘fit and proper’ test, HMRC will remove the right to trade in wholesale alcohol.

If approved by HMRC, a business will receive an AWRS unique reference number (URN).  The format for the URN will be made up of 4 alpha characters and 11 numeric characters, such as: XXAW00000123456.  From 1 April 2017 registered wholesalers will need to include this on wholesale sales invoices.

Another burden for businesses I am afraid, but it is understandable considering the likely amount of tax lost in alcohol fraud.  Please contact us should you have any queries on this matter.

VAT – Residential Property Triggerpoints

By   February 17, 2016

BatterseaVAT and property transactions are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times.  Getting the tax wrong, or failing to consider it at all can result in a loss of income of 20% on a project, or forgoing all input tax incurred on a development. Even a simple matter of timing can affect a transaction to a seller’s detriment. Here I take a brief look at issues that can impact residential property transactions.  It is important to recognise when VAT may affect a project so I hope that some of these triggerpoints may prove useful.

General points

The following are very general points on residential properties. No two cases are the same, so we strongly recommend that specific advice is obtained.

Refurbishing “old” residential properties

Broadly speaking, the VAT incurred on such work is not reclaimable as the end use of the property will be exempt (either sale or rent). There is no way round this as it is not possible to opt to tax residential dwellings. It may be possible to use the partial exemption de minimis limits if there are any other business activities in the same VAT registration. If this is the only activity of a business, it will not even be permitted to register for VAT. There are special rules if the number of dwellings change as a result of the work (see below).

New residential builds

The first sale (or the grant of a long lease 21 years plus) of a newly constructed dwelling by “the person constructing” is zero rated. This means that any VAT incurred on the construction is recoverable. Care should be taken if the new dwelling is let on a short term basis rather than/before being sold as this will materially affect input tax recovery.  Advice should always be taken before such a decision is made as there is planning available to avoid such an outcome. VAT incurred on professional and legal costs of the development may also be recovered such as; architects, solicitors, advisers, agents etc. VAT registration is necessary in these cases and our advice is to VAT register at the earliest stage possible.

The construction of new dwellings is zero rated, along with any building materials supplied by the contractor carrying out the work.  The zero rating also extends to sub-contractors.  It is not necessary for a certificate to be provided in order to zero rate such building works.


There are special rules for refurbishments which create a different number of dwellings (eg; dividing up a single house into flats, or changing the total number of flats in a block, or making one dwelling by amalgamating flats). Generally, it is possible for contractors to invoice for their building work at the reduced rate of 5%. This rate may also apply to conversions. A conversion is defined as work undertaken on a non-residential property, such as a barn, office or church, into one or more self-contained dwellings.  Once converted the sale of the residential property will be zero rated and all of the input tax incurred on associated costs is recoverable (similar to a new build).

Renovation of empty residential premises

Reduced rating at 5% is also available for the renovation or alteration of empty residential premises. Such a premises is one that has not been lived in during the two years immediately before the work starts. HMRC will insist on documentary evidence that the property has been empty for that time.

Purchase of a commercial property intended for conversion

If it is intended to convert a commercial property into residential use and the vendor indicates that (s)he will charge VAT (as a result of the option to tax having been exercised) it is possible for the purchaser to disapply the option to tax by the issue of a certain document; form VAT 1614D. This means that the sale will become exempt.  Advice should always be sought on this issue by parties on each side of the transaction as it very often creates difficulties and significant VAT and other costs (mainly for the vendor).

Mixed developments

If what is being constructed is a building that is only in part a zero-rated dwelling, a contractor can only zero-rate its work for the qualifying parts. For example, if a building  containing a shop with a flat above is constructed, only the construction of the flat can be zero-rated. An apportionment must be made for common areas such as foundations and roof etc. The sale of the residential element when complete is zero rated and the sale of the commercial part will be standard rated if under three years since completion.  If the commercial part is over three years old at the date of sale, or is rented rather than sold, the supply will be exempt with the option to tax available – details here.  If an exempt supply is made, the recovery of input tax incurred on the development will be compromised and it is important that this recognised and planning put in place to avoid this outcome.

DIY building projects

There is a specific scheme for DIY Housebuilders to recover input tax incurred on the construction of a dwelling for the constructor to live in personally.  Details here

Sale of an incomplete residential development

There are two possible routes to relief if a project is sold before dwellings have been completed (either new build or conversion).  This can often be a complex area, however, there is some zero rating relief which may apply, and also it may be possible to apply TOGC (Transfer Of a Going Concern) treatment to the sale.  In both cases, it is likely that input tax previously claimed by the developer should not be jeopardised.


There are VAT complications for the following types of transactions/developments and issues:

  • work on listed properties
  • definition of a dwelling
  • arrangements where consortiums or syndicates are used/profit share
  • transactions in connection with nursing or children’s homes or similar
  • “granny flats” in the garden of existing houses
  • work on charitable buildings/ for charities
  • converting specific commercial property into residential property – particularly ex-pubs
  • sales to Housing Associations
  • sales of “substantially reconstructed protected buildings”
  • buying VATable buildings
  • date of completion – zero rating cut off
  • supplies by members of VAT groups
  • definition of building materials
  • input tax on white goods and similar
  • alterations for people with disabilities
  • garages with dwellings
  • land supplied with a property
  • buying property with existing, continuing leases
  • beneficial owner versus legal owner supplies
  • change of intention (buying land/property with the intention of using it for one purpose, but the intention changes after purchase)
  • where professional/architect’s fees are incurred
  • planning gains
  • own use of a property
  • mobile homes
  • reverse premiums/surrenders/reverse surrenders re; leases
  • holiday lets
  • hotels
  • business use by purchaser/tenant
  • contract stage of a property purchase where VAT is potentially chargeable by vendor
  • timing of supplies
  • work re; schools, churches, village halls, hospitals, or any other “unusual” structures

This list is not exhaustive, but I hope it gives a broad idea of where VAT needs to be considered “before the event”. As always, I am available to assist.


VAT – Latest from the courts – Holding companies management charges. Norseman Gold plc

By   February 15, 2016

The scales of justiceThe Norseman Gold plc case considered whether a holding company could recover input tax incurred on certain costs.  This is turn depended on whether the holding company was making taxable supplies. Specifically; management charges to non VAT-grouped subsidiary companies.

The Upper Tribunal has recently released its decision. It upheld the First-tier Tribunal’s decision which confirmed that, although the management services in this case could have been considered as economic activities for VAT purposes, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Norseman was making, or intended to make, taxable supplies when the input tax was reclaimed. The UT found that “…vague and general intention that payment would be made …” for management services was insufficient to show a connection between the VAT incurred and taxable supplies.  Consequently, HMRC’s assessments to recover the relevant input tax were upheld.


This case emphasises the importance of holding companies having appropriate processes and ensuring that proper documentation is in place to evidence, not only the intention to make taxable supplies of management charges, but that those charges were actually made to subsidiaries.  It is also important to ensure that actual management of the subsidiaries take place, and a record of this management is retained.  Simply making a charge to subsidiaries is insufficient if no services are actually supplied as this will not constitute an economic activity.

Often significant costs can be incurred by a holding company in cases such as acquisitions and restructuring.  It is important that these costs are incurred by, and invoiced to the appropriate entity in order for the VAT on them to be recovered.  Consideration must be given to how the input tax is recovered before it is incurred and the appropriate structure put in place.

Please contact me should you require further information on this point or would like to discuss the matter further.

VAT Latest from the courts; can HMRC impose a higher value on a supply?

By   February 9, 2016

VAT Latest from the courts – Whether Open Market Value applies  080918-N-0659H-001

HMRC has the power to direct that Open Market Value (OMV) is applied to the value of certain supplies between connected parties – VAT Act 1994 Schedule 6, paragraph 1. This power is used to avoid situations where one party is unable to recover all of the input tax incurred on purchases. Usually, the direction is used when one party purchase goods and services at OMV, recovers full input tax and then supplies these goods and services to a connected party at a lower price, thus reducing the amount of input tax lost by the recipient party.

HMRC deemed this to be the position in Temple Retail Limited and Temple Finance Limited (TC04840) where “TRL” purchased goods and services and resupplied them to “TFL”.  TFL was a company that was unable to recover all of its input tax as a result of partial exemption (it made supplies of exempt credit as it sold goods to consumers via HP agreements).  HMRC was concerned that TRL and TFL had an opportunity to improve their aggregate input tax recovery by charging fees for certain services below OMV and consequently issued an OMV direction.

HMRC later issued TRL with assessments for under-declared output tax for not complying with the direction and this, inter alia, was the subject of the appeal by the taxpayer.

The FT Tribunal was satisfied that the majority of TRL’s fees charged to TFL were charged at OMV. However, The Tribunal decided that advertising services were not calculated at OMV and held that these services should be recalculated by reference to a method which it specified.

The case is a useful reminder of HMRC’s powers to substitute a stated value of a supply with what it believes to be OMV between connected parties. Business which are connected and provide exempt services need to be aware of the position and ensure that relevant supplies do not fall foul of the OMV direction rules.  Care should be taken to document the values used and the reasons why they reflect the economic reality of the position in order to avoid a challenge from HMRC.  OMV is often an area that creates differences of opinion and therefore disputes.  Any structures which set out to deliberately reduce the value of supplies are likely to result in more serious actions from HMRC.

A definition of what constitutes connected parties is found here

If the case sets off any warning bells, please contact us as soon as possible.

VAT – Overseas Holiday Lets; a warning

By   February 8, 2016

It is important to understand the VAT consequences of owning property overseas. It may not be commonly known that the UK has the highest VAT threshold in the EC. This means that for many ‘sideline’ businesses such as; the rental of second or holiday properties in the UK, the owners, whether they are; individuals, businesses, or pension schemes, only have to consider VAT if income in relation to the property exceeds £82,000 pa. and this is only likely if a number of properties are home

However, other EC Member States have nil thresholds for foreign entrepreneurs meaning that if any rental income is received, VAT registration may be compulsory. Consequently, a property owner that rents out a property abroad will probably have a liability to register for VAT there. Failure to comply with the domestic legislation of the relevant Member State means; payment of back VAT and interest and fines being levied. It is also not a good idea to provoke the interest of overseas tax authorities. VAT registration however, does mean that a property owner can recover input tax on expenditure in connection with the property, eg; agent’s fees, repair and maintenance and other professional costs.  Such claims may be restricted if the home is used for own use.

It should be noted that, unlike other types of rental of homes, holiday lettings are always standard-rated. Also, the letting of holiday homes is always treated as a business activity unless lettings are very infrequent.  If lettings are a one-off or rare, evidence should be retained to evidence this fact.  There is no set number of times a property can be let before it is treated as a business, and the interpretation may differ between different Member States.  Details of taxable supplies and being in business here

Given that every EC Member State has differing rules to the UK, it is crucial to check all the consequences of letting property overseas.

A final word of warning; I quite often hear the comment “I’m not going to bother – how will they ever find out?”

If an overseas property owner based in the UK is in competition with local letting businesses, those businesses generally do not have any compulsion in notifying the authorities. In addition, I have heard of authorities carrying out very simple initiatives to see if owners are VAT registered. In many resorts, income from tourism is vital and this is a very important revenue stream for them so it is well policed.

Please contact us for further details. We have experience in dealing with overseas VAT matters on our clients’ behalf.

VAT Taxable Supply – Basic Definition

By   February 5, 2016

VAT Back To Basics bar-code-24157_960_720

It is sometimes useful when considering a transaction to “go back to basics” for VAT purposes. There are four tests to determine whether a supply is taxable and these are set out below.  Broadly, these tests establish whether UK VAT is payable on a sale.

A transaction is within the scope of UK VAT if all four of the following are satisfied.

  1. It is a supply of goods or services.

There is a distinction between the two types of supply as different VAT treatments may apply.  However, if no goods are services are actually provided, there is no supply.  Indeed, if there is no consideration for a supply, in most cases it is not a taxable supply.

2. It takes place in the UK.

There are quite complex tests to consider when analysing the “place of supply”, especially where services are concerned.  If the place of supply is outside the UK then usually no UK VAT is due, however, the supply may be subject to VAT in another country.

3. It is made by a taxable person.

A taxable person is any legal entity which is, or should be, registered for VAT in the UK.

4. It is made in the course or furtherance of any business carried on by that person

The term “business” is only used in UK legislation, The Principal VAT Directive refers to “economic activity” rather than “business” and since UK domestic legislation must conform to the Directive both terms must be seen as having the same meaning.  Since the very first days of VAT there have been disagreements over what constitutes a “business”. I have only recently ended a dispute over this definition for a (as it turns out) very happy client.  The tests were set out as long ago as 1981 and may be summarised as follows:

So, if the four tests are passed a taxable supply exists.  The next step is often to establish which VAT rate applies!

Tip: It is often easier to consider what isn’t a taxable supply to establish the correct VAT treatment.  Specific examples of situations which are not taxable supplies are; donations, certain free supplies of services, certain grants or funding, some compensation and some transactions which are specifically excluded from the tax by legislation, eg; transfers of going concerns.

I think that it is often the case that the basic building blocks of the tax are overlooked, especially in complex situations and I find it helps to “go back to the first page” sometimes!