The dictionary definition of the verb to apportion is “to distribute or allocate proportionally; divide and assign according to some rule of proportional distribution”.
So why is apportionment important in the world of VAT and where would a business encounter the need to apportion? I thought that it might be useful to take an overall look at the subject as it is one of, if not the most, contentious areas of VAT. If affects both output tax declarations and input tax claims, so I have looked at these two areas separately. If an apportionment is inaccurate it will either result in paying too much tax, or risking penalties and additional attention from HMRC; both of which are to be avoided!
The overriding point in all these examples is that any apportionment must be “fair and reasonable”.
The following are examples of where a business needs to apportion the value of sales:
Retailers find it difficult to account for VAT in the normal way so they use what is known as a retail scheme. There are various schemes but they all provide a formula for calculating VAT on sales at the standard, reduced and zero rate. This is needed for shops that sell goods at different rates, eg; food, clothing and books alongside standard rated supplies. As an example, in Apportionment Scheme 1 a business works out the value of its purchases for retail sale at different rates of VAT and applies those proportions to its sales.
A good example here is if a developer employs a contractor to construct a new building which contains retail units on the ground floor with flats above. The construction of the commercial part is standard rated, but the building of the residential element is zero rated. The contractor has to apportion his supply between the two VAT rates. This apportionment could be made with reference to floorspace, costs, value or any other method which provides a fair and reasonable result. The value of supplies relating to property is often high, so it is important that the apportionment is accurate and not open to challenge from HMRC. I recommend that agreement on the method used is agreed with HMRC prior to the supply in order to avoid any subsequent issues.
Let us assume that in the construction example above, when the construction is complete, the developer lets the whole building to a third party. He chooses to opt to tax the property in order to recover the attributable input tax. The option has no effect on the residential element which will represent an exempt supply. Consequently, an apportionment must be made between the letting income in respect of the shops and flats.
There has been a great deal of case law on whether subscriptions to certain organisations by which the subscriber obtains various benefits represent a single supply at a certain VAT rate, or separate supplies at different rates. A common example is zero rated printed matter with other exempt or standard rated supplies.
Most are familiar with the furore over the “pasty tax” and even with the U-turn, the provision of food/catering is often the subject of disputes over apportionment. Broadly; the sale of cold food for take away is zero rated and hot food and eat in (catering) is standard rated. There have been myriad cases on what’s hot and what’s not, what constitutes a premises (for eat in), and how food is “held out” for sale. The recent Subway dispute highlights the subtleties in this area. I have successfully claimed significant amounts of overpaid output tax based on this kind of apportionment and it is always worth reviewing a business’s position. New products are arriving all the time and circumstances of a business can change. A word of warning here; HMRC regularly mount covert observation exercises to record the proportion of customers eating in to those taking away. They also carry out “test eats” so it is crucial that any method used to apportion sales is accurate and supportable.
Opticians have a difficult time of it with VAT. Examinations and advice services are exempt healthcare, but the sale of goods; spectacles and contact lenses, is standard rated. Almost always a customer/patient pays a single amount which covers the services as well as the goods. Apportionment in these cases is very difficult and has been the subject of disagreement and tribunal cases for many years; some of which I have been involved in. Not only is the sales value apportionment complex, but many opticians are partly exempt which causes additional difficulties. I recommend that all opticians review their VAT position.
Input tax recovery
- Business/Non-Business (BNB)
If an entity is involved in both business and non-business activities, eg; a charity which provides free advice and also has a shop which sells donated goods. It is unable to recover all of the VAT it incurs. VAT attributable to non-business activities is not input tax and cannot be reclaimed. Therefore it is necessary to calculate the quantum of VAT attributable to BNB activities, that VAT which cannot be attributed is called overhead VAT and must be apportioned between BNB activities. There are many varied ways of doing this as the VAT legislation does not specify any particular method. Therefore it is important to consider all of the available alternatives. Examples of these are; income, expenditure, time, floorspace, transaction count etc.
Similarly to BNB if a business makes exempt supplies, eg; certain property letting, insurance and financial products, it cannot recover input tax attributable to those exempt supplies (unless the value is de minimis). Overhead input tax needs to be apportioned between taxable and exempt supplies. The standard method of doing this is to apply the ratio of taxable versus exempt supply values to the overhead tax. However, there are many “special methods” available, but these have to be agreed with HMRC. Partial exemption is often complex and always results in an actual VAT cost to a business, so it is always worthwhile to review the position regularly. Exemption is not a relief to a business.
In both BNB and partial exemption situations before considering overheads all VAT must, as far as possible, be attributed to either taxable or exempt and non-business activities. This in itself is a form of apportionment and it is often not clear how the supply received has been used by a business, that is; of which activity is it a cost component?
At certain events staff may attend along with other guests who are not employed. The recovery of input tax in respect of staff entertainment is recoverable but (generally) entertaining non staff members is blocked. Therefore an apportionment of the VAT incurred on such entertainment is required.
- Business and private use of an asset
If a company owns, say, a yacht or a helicopter and uses it for a director’s own private use, but it is chartered to third parties when not being used (business use) an apportionment must be made between the two activities. The most usual way of doing this is on a time basis. Apportionment will also be required in the example of a business owning a holiday home used for both business and private purposes. Input tax relating to private (non-business) use is always blocked.
It is common for a staff member to use a car for both business and private purposes. Input tax is only recoverable in respect of the business use so an apportionment is required. This may be done by keeping detailed mileage records, or more simply by applying the Road Fuel Scale Charge which is a set figure per month which represents a disallowance for private use.
The above examples are not exhaustive but I hope they give a flavour to the subject.
If your business apportions, or should apportion, values for either income or expenditure I strongly recommend a review on the method. There is often no “right answer” for an apportionment and I often find that HMRC impose unnecessarily harsh demands on a taxpayer. Additionally, many business are unaware of alternatives or are resistant to challenging HMRC even when they have a good case.