Monthly Archives: May 2016

VAT – New company car fuel rates

By   May 31, 2016

petrol1 (2)Advisory fuel rates from 1 June 2016

HMRC have published the new rates which apply from 1 June 2016. These rates apply to employees using a company car and HMRC will also accept them for VAT purposes. 

Engine size Petrol – amount per mile LPG – amount per mile
1400cc or less 10 pence 7 pence
1401cc to 2000cc 13 pence 9 pence
Over 2000cc 20 pence 13 pence
Engine size Diesel – amount per mile
1600cc or less 9 pence
1601cc to 2000cc 10 pence
Over 2000cc 12 pence

Hybrid cars are treated as either petrol or diesel cars for this purpose.

HMRC website here

VAT – Apportionment issues: complex and costly

By   May 24, 2016

The dictionary definition of the verb to apportion is “to distribute or allocate proportionally; divide and assign according to some rule of proportional distribution”. optician (2)

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:

  • Retail 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.

  • Construction

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.

  • Property letting

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.

  • Subscriptions

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.

  • Take away

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

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.

  • Partial exemption

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.

  • Attribution

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?

  • Business entertainment

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.

  • Motoring expenses

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.

VAT – Latest from the courts. More on separate and composite supplies and land exemption

By   May 17, 2016

wedding-322034_960_720TC05078 Blue Chip Hotels Ltd

This is a FtT case which considered the VAT analysis of a supply in two ways. The appellant was an hotel which offered a wedding “package”. The package comprised; a room which was licensed for civil wedding ceremonies, the hire of other rooms, catering, accommodation, car parking and the use of the grounds for photographs.  The only activity carried out in the “wedding room” was the wedding ceremony itself.  The hotel treated the hire of the wedding room as exempt and added VAT to the remainder of the package.

The two technical points were:

  1.  Was the supply of the wedding room a separate supply to the rest of the wedding package as advanced by the taxpayer, or was it one element of the overall package to which standard rating applied?, and;
  2. If an independent supply, was it an exempt supply of land under VAT Act, Schedule 9, Group 1 as argued by the appellant?

Somewhat to the puzzlement of the Tribunal, HMRC had accepted that if the wedding room was supplied without any other element of the wedding package it could be treated as an exempt supply of land.

On the first point the Tribunal decided that the hire of the wedding room should be treated as a separate supply for VAT purposes. However, this was only relevant if the taxpayer could demonstrate that the provision of the wedding room was a supply of land.

On the second point, the issue was whether what the hotel supplied was more than the mere hire of the wedding room as a passive letting of land. The tribunal was of the view that an additional service was being provided, this being the service of a legal wedding ceremony which could be carried out only because of the licensed nature of the wedding room.  That is; what was being paid for was the right to participate in a particular event, only part of which entailed the provision of the physical space in which that event occurred.

The Tribunal concluded that the supply of the wedding room could not be treated as an exempt supply of land via VAT Act, Schedule 9, Group 1, the provision of licensed premises in which a civil wedding could legally be carried out went beyond the passive letting of land and was outside the scope of the exemption.

This seems to go against the decision in Drumtochty Castle Ltd (TC2111) inter alia, where the Tribunal found that in similar circumstances to those in this instant case that what was being offered was a single package such that exemption could not be applied to certain elements. Although it may simply demonstrate that even subtle differences in the facts can result in a different VAT outcome.  As previously observed in a number of these types of cases, it is crucial to analyse precisely what is being provided, even in cases where the VAT treatment has remained unchanged for a number of years.  Case law develops at a very fast rate and legislation changes regularly, both of which can affect the tax position.

New approach to VAT inspections by HMRC

By   May 16, 2016

phone office (2)A VAT quickie.

We understand that HMRC are about to introduce new plans to change the way some VAT inspections are carried out.

The intention is that when a business is selected to an inspection, rather than arranging and visiting the business in the traditional way, initial contact will be made with the responsible person. At this point a short telephone questionnaire will take place.  If this option is taken then it is possible that HMRC will reconsider the need for a full inspection.  This appears to be along the lines of some pre-credibility processes.  It is a pilot exercise and will be entirely voluntary for the taxpayer.

If this approach enables HMRC to focus on evasion and high risk business while reducing the burden for the majority of businesses who always try to be accurate with VAT declarations it is to be welcomed.  We shall see how the pilot goes and whether this is rolled out to more businesses.  HMRC expects that this will be a benefit for both them and taxpayers and it is to be hoped that this is the case.

We have no knowledge currently how “brief” the questionnaire will be and how much information and preparation will be required.  However, it is likely that they will focus on industry specific questions rather than on processes and controls.  

If contacted by HMRC our usual advice is to contact us to ensure everything is as it should be.  This may avoid penalties and ensure any enquires are concluded smoothly.

VAT – Liability of works carried out under Permitted Development Rights

By   May 10, 2016

barn-1268511_960_720HMRC has clarified its views on the zero and reduced rating of conversion construction work carried out under Permitted Development Rights (PDRs).

Who is affected?

Builders and developers who convert non-residential buildings into dwellings for which individual statutory planning consent is not required because the development is covered by PDRs. Additionally, it applies to any person carrying out a similar conversion who will be making a claim for a refund of VAT under the DIY Housebuilders’ Scheme.

What are PDRs?

PDRs are a national grant of planning permission for particular types of development. They are intended to streamline the planning process by removing the need for a full planning application, therefore reducing the amount of information required.

What has changed?

To zero-rate the sale of all newly converted dwellings (from non-residential buildings) or to make a valid claim under the DIY Housebuilders’ Scheme, the converted building must meet the requirements of a building “designed as a dwelling”.  One of these conditions is that the developer, builder or DIY Housebuilders’ Scheme claimant must be able to demonstrate that statutory planning consent has been granted for a dwelling and that its construction has been carried out in accordance with that consent.  In addition, part of the conditions for some supplies of construction services to be eligible for the reduced rate of VAT of 5% for the conversion of a non-residential building into a dwelling requires individual statutory planning consent.

HMRC have announced that following the introduction of PDRs, individual statutory planning consent will no longer be required for some developments making the meeting of this condition difficult.

HMRC Brief 9 (2016) sets out that when certain conditions are met, zero rating and/or reduced rating where applicable is additionally available when converting non-residential buildings to dwellings when work is carried out under a PDR.  This is in contrast to work undertaken via planning consent.

Relevant parties will still be required to provide evidence that the work has been undertaken legally and that it qualifies as a permitted development.

The full guidance is here

VAT – Spot The Ball – Latest from the courts

By   May 9, 2016

ball (2)Is Spot The Ball a game? And if it is, is it a game of chance? (And therefore exempt from VAT).

In the case of IFX Investment Company Ltd & ORS the main issue was whether the First-tier Tribunal (FtT) were wrong to hold that the appellants’ “Spot The Ball” competitions was exempt under the gaming exemption in Value Added Tax Act 1994, Schedule 9 Group 4. To fall within the gaming exemption, Spot The Ball must be a “game of chance” within the meaning of the Gaming Act 1968. The dispute was over the word “game” and the words “of chance”.

The Court of Appeal (CoA) considered whether the FtT decision in favour of the appellant that the supply was exempt or whether HMRC’s successful appeal to the Upper-tier Tribunal (UtT) should stand.

The court heard form the promoters that while there was an element of skill in determining roughly where the panel that decided where the ball should be would actually place it, the precise placement of the cross was essentially a matter of chance.  HMRC insisted that the competitors were not “playing a game” as they advanced the argument that a “game” required interaction between the players. and therefore Spot The Ball could not be considered playing a game of chance such that the supply is standard rated.

The UtT  deemed that Spot The Ball is “played” in “solitary isolation” and does not involve any interaction between competitors. The only contract is between the operator and the individual competitor. Additionally the act of placing a cross on the coupon was not “playing”

The CoA disagreed with the UtT’s decision and concluded that the FtT made a finding that Spot The Ball was a game of chance and there was no reason to disturb this decision. The FtT was correct to hold that there is no inter-player interaction rule. Previous case law clearly contemplates that there can be a game without the contestants being in communication with each other. Consequently, it restored the FtT’s decision and the supplies are exempt.

This case has brought home to me two (non-VAT) things; 1) That Spot The Ball is still around, and that 2) I always thought that one had to actually put a cross where the ball actually was, rather than where a judging panel thought the ball was likely to be.  One lives and learns. I’m also constantly surprised that “the pools” still exist in these days of lotteries and lotto and other promotions.

Case here

VAT – Disbursements Q&As

By   May 6, 2016


A very common query regarding VAT is “I pass on charges incurred on behalf of my client/customer – do I add VAT?”  In other words, does the payment qualify as a disbursement?

Does it matter if the original supply has VAT on it?

Yes. Whether a payment is a disbursement is only a practical issue if the charge involved is initially VAT free since, if it were VATable, there would be no benefit to the final customer in passing the charge on “in the same state”.  The points below assume that the charge in question is VAT free, eg; statutory fees (land registry, stamp duty, search fees, MOTs etc) insurance, financial products etc although benefits may also be obtained if the original supply is reduced rated.

So only if a supply is a disbursement can I pass it on in the “same state; ie; VAT free?


So when can I pass on a payment VAT free? 

A disbursement is passed on without any alteration (eg; not marked up or changed in any way) and the supply must be to the final customer by the original provider.  If the supply is VAT free then the recovery of the costs is also VAT free.  The passing on of the payment from the final customer to the supplier is done as agent.  Therefore, in these circumstances, a supplier may be acting as principal for part of a supply, and agent for another part.  The disbursement should not appear on the “agent’s” VAT return.

When do I have to add VAT onto a supply which is originally VAT free?

 When the onward supply is not a disbursement.

A distinction must be drawn between a necessary cost component of a supplier making a supply and a disbursement.  An example is zero-rated travel.  A supplier may incur a train fare in providing his service, but that is a cost component for him and not a disbursement, so VAT would be added to any onward charge.  It is clear that the supplier is not actually supplying train travel to his customer, but is consuming the cost in providing his overall VATable service.

What are the rules for treating a payment as a disbursement?

The following criteria must be met by a supplier to establish whether it qualifies as a disbursement:

  • you acted as the agent of your client when you paid the third party
  • your client actually received and used the goods or services provided by the third party
  • your client was responsible for paying the third party
  • your client authorised you to make the payment on their behalf
  • your client knew that the goods or services you paid for would be provided by a third party
  • your outlay will be separately itemised when you invoice your client
  • you recover only the exact amount which you paid to the third party, and
  • the goods or services, which you paid for, are clearly additional to the supplies which you make to your client on your own account.

What if I get it wrong?

If you add VAT to a properly VAT free disbursement HMRC will treat the amount shown on the invoice as VAT.  However, it will not permit the recipient of the supply to recover input tax (as it is not VAT) thus creating an actual VAT cost. if you treat a supply as a VAT free disbursement when it actually forms part of your taxable supply, HMRC will issue and assessment and potentially penalties and interest.  Unfortunately, I have seen this course of action taken a number of times and the amounts of VAT involved were significant.

Please contact us if you have any queries on this matter.  Sometimes the matter is less than straightforward and getting it wrong can be very expensive for a business. If you have been charged VAT on what you believe to be a VAT free disbursement, it may also be worth challenging your supplier.

A guide with helpful diagrams is available here