Monthly Archives: November 2016

VAT – Autumn Statement. Unwelcome changes to the Flat Rate Scheme

By   November 24, 2016

autumn-leaves-871286965014l8g8-2Autumn Statement

The Flat Rate Scheme (FRS) is a very helpful simplification of VAT for smaller businesses. It reduces paperwork and can result in a tax benefit for those who use the scheme. Details of the FRS are at the end of this article.

In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor has announced changes to the FRS to be introduced from 1 April 2017. Under the misleading heading: “Tackling aggressive abuse of the VAT Flat Rate Scheme” the technical note here

This sets out a new FRS rate for businesses with “ with limited costs”.

Broadly, if a business has VAT inclusive expenditure on goods of either:

  • less than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover in a prescribed accounting period
  • greater than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover but less than £1000 per annum if the prescribed accounting period is one year

The above excludes capital expenditure, food or drink for consumption by the business or its employees, and vehicles, vehicle parts and fuel.

Then they will be required to use a FRS rate of 16.5% rather than the rate currently applicable.

There will be anti-forestalling provisions in place to avoid manipulation of timing.


What this means

Assume a business is currently using the 12% flat rate:

100 + 20% VAT = 120 x 12% = 14.4 VAT due

120 x 16.5% = 19.8 VAT due at the new rate

Outside the FRS VAT due = 20 VAT due (but input tax recovery available to offset)



This will unfortunately affect many small businesses who have no intention and are certainly not involved in “aggressive abuse”. It appears just another example of, as The Times leader once said of the Rolling Stones case “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”*


Flat Rate Scheme
The Flat Rate Scheme is designed to assist smaller businesses reduce the amount of time and complexity required for VAT accounting. The Flat Rate Scheme removes the need to calculate the VAT on every transaction. Instead, a business pays a flat rate percentage of its VAT inclusive turnover. The percentage paid is less than the standard VAT rate because it recognises the fact that no input tax can be claimed on purchases. The flat rate percentage used is dependent on a business’ trade sector.
A business is eligible for this scheme if its estimated taxable turnover in the next year will not exceed £150,000. Once using the scheme, a business is permitted to continue using it until its income exceeds £230,000.
If eligible, a business may combine the Flat Rate Scheme with the Annual Accounting Schemes, additionally, there is an option to effectively use a cash basis so there is no need to use the Cash Accounting Scheme. There has been recent case law on the percentage certain businesses’ use for the FRS, so it is worth checking closely.  There is a one percent discount for a business in its first year of trading.
  • Depending on trade sector and circumstances may result in a real VAT saving
  • Simplified record keeping; no requirement to separate out gross, VAT and net in accounts
  • Fewer rules; no issues with input tax a business can and cannot recover on purchases
  • Certainty of knowing how much of income is payable to HMRC
  • No reclaim of input tax incurred on purchases
  • If you buy a significant amount from VAT registered businesses, it is likely to result in more VAT due
  • Likely to be unattractive for businesses making zero-rated or exempt sales because output tax would also apply to this hitherto VAT free income
  • Low turnover limit


* For those of a literary bent, the original quote is from Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot of January 1735.

VAT – Input tax on buy out costs and VAT grouping

By   November 23, 2016

heating-463904_960_720May input tax incurred by a VAT group be attributed to the activities of a single member of that group?

In the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of Heating and Plumbing Supplies Ltd, the issue was whether input tax incurred on professional costs of a management buyout were recoverable.


A company was formed with the intention of buying the shares of a trading company.  The purchasing company and the trading company were then VAT grouped and the professional costs were invoiced to, and paid for, by the VAT group (the tax point being created after the date that the VAT group was formed).  HMRC disallowed the claim for the relevant input tax on the grounds that the purchasing company itself did not make any taxable supplies (it did not engage in an economic activity).  While this may have been correct, the appellant contended that in these circumstances, the VAT group must be considered as a single taxable person and that the activities of the group as a whole that should be considered. The input tax was an overhead of the group, and because the group itself only made taxable supplies (via the representative member) the input tax was recoverable in full by the representative member


Following recent case law in Skandia America at the Court of Justice, the judge here decided in favour of the appellant. It was ruled that HMRC may not look at the purchasing company in isolation but rather, the group must be considered as a whole.  The FTT stated that when a VAT group is formed the identities of the individual members of the group disappear…” meaning that a VAT group is a single taxable entity, the VAT status of the individual members being irrelevant in this situation. This confirms our long held view on the status of VAT groups and provides welcome clarification on the matter.


This case highlights that HMRC’s policy of looking at the activities of a group member individually is inappropriate.  This is so even if the grouping structure provides input tax recovery which would not have been available had the companies been VAT registered independently.

Typically in these circumstances, HMRC will either challenge the decision, or amend its guidance to reflect this ruling.  We await news on how HMRC will react.


If a business has either been denied input tax on buy out or similar acquisition costs, or made a decision not to recover this VAT, it would be prudent to lodge a claim with HMRC (plus interest).

We are able to assist with such a claim.

VAT Snippet – Australia GST

By   November 21, 2016

sydney_opera_house_2010-2Changes to sales to Australia

If your business, or clients’ business, sell goods to customers in Australia, new rules will be introduced that will affect the tax on these supplies.

Draft legislation

From 1 July 2017 GST (Goods and Services Tax – the equivalent of VAT in Australia) will be applied to low value goods imported by Australian consumers. These sales have, hitherto, been tax free.  There is a relief however, for sales below the GST turnover of $75,000 which will not attract GST. The reason for the introduction is to ensure that imports are not treated more favourably than domestic sales.

Changes for the EU too?

Interestingly, the EC is actively considering the introduction of similar rules for VAT on low value consignments and this may impact UK consumers and/or businesses (assuming, of course that the UK remains in the EU at that time…).


We are able to advise on any cross-border transactions, both within and outside the EU.  With our network of professional contacts and strategic partners here we provide a comprehensive tax service from one-off ad-hoc queries to day to day compliance issues around the world.

VAT Latest from the courts – Application of Capital Goods Scheme

By   November 10, 2016

justice28-2Should the costs of a phased development be aggregated, and if so, do the anti-avoidance provisions apply?

In the case of Water Property Limited (WPL) the First Tier Tribunal was asked to consider the application of; the Capital Goods Scheme (CGS) and the anti-avoidance provisions set out in the VAT Act 1994, Schedule 10, para 12.

A helpful guide to the CGS is here


WPL purchased land and buildings formerly used as a public house, subject to planning permission to convert the ground floor into a children’s day care nursery and the upper floor into residential flats. The planning permission was subsequently granted. WPL paid £210,000 plus £37,500 VAT on the acquisition of the ex-pub in March 2013. The children’s nursery business was kept separate from the property development business to enable the children’s nursery business to be sold at a date in the future and for the leasehold reversion to be retained as an investment by WPL.  The value of the building contract for the nursery was £209,812.34 including VAT. The value of the contract for the residential flats was £161,546.42 including VAT. The consideration for the acquisition and each phase of development was below £250,000 (the threshold at which land and buildings become CGS items) but combined, they exceeded the £250,000 limit. WPL exercised an option to tax on the property and entered into a lease with Smile Childcare Limited (SCL).  SCL was established to carry on a business of the provision of nursery care for infant children. It was jointly owned by Mr and Mrs Waters. Mrs Waters as the operator of the children’s nursery.

WPL recovered input tax on costs incurred in respect of the nursery, but not the flats. It was accepted by the appellant that SCL and WPL were “connected” within the meaning of VAT Act 1994, Schedule 10, para 13 and that the activity of carrying on the business of a nursery was an exempt activity.


HMRC formed the view that the option to tax should be disapplied by virtue of the anti-avoidance legislation meaning that no input tax was recoverable. This is because the property was, or was intended to become, a CGS item and the ‘exempt land test’ is met. This test is met if, at the time the grant is made, the grantor, or a person connected with the grantor expects the land to be used for an exempt purpose.

So the issue was whether the land constituted a CGS item.  That is, whether the value of the two elements forming the phased development should be aggregated.


The FTT allowed the taxpayer’s appeal against HMRC’s decision. It was decided that the acquisition and development costs were financed through different means; there were separate contracts for each phase; there was no overlap in the works* and HMRC had not identified any evasion, avoidance or abuse and considered that the costs did not need to be aggregated.  In addition, it was concluded that WPL had relied on HMRC guidance in determining that there was no requirement to aggregate the cost of the phased development provided that there was no overlap in time.

As a consequence, as each part of the development fell below the £250,000 limit, there were no CGS items.  Therefore the fact that the parties were connected was irrelevant and the anti-avoidance provisions did not apply such that the option to tax could not be disapplied meaning that the recovery of the input tax was appropriate. The Chairman also commented that the appellant had a legitimate expectation to rely on the guidance provided by HMRC (in this case the provision of a copy of Public Notice 706/2).


There is often uncertainty on the VAT position of land and property developments of this kind, and the interaction with the CGS is rarely straightforward.  This is not helped by HMRC’s interpretation of the rules.


If any business or advisers with clients which have been;

  •  forced to use the CGS as a result of aggregation
  • subject to the application of the anti-avoidance provisions
  • assessed despite relying on HMRC’s published guidance

they should seek advice and review their position. We can advise in such circumstances.

 * As per PN 706/2 Para 4.12 as follows
 “What if the refurbishment is in phases?
If you do this you will need to decide whether the work should be treated as a whole for CGS [capital goods scheme] purposes or whether there is more than one refurbishment. If you think that each phase is really a separate refurbishment then they should be treated separately for CGS purposes. Normally there is more than one refurbishment when:
· There are separate contracts for each phase of work, or;
· A contract where each phase is a separate option which can be selected, and;
· Each phase of work is completed before work on the next phase starts…”

VAT – Treatment of used pre-registration assets

By   November 9, 2016

stock-3New HMRC Publication: Brief 16/2016

HMRC has clarified its position on the claim of input tax relating to assets used by a business prior to VAT registration.  HMRC had previously, in some circumstances, sought to disallow an element of such input tax. They now accept that input tax incurred on fixed assets purchased within four years of the Effective Date of Registration (EDR) is recoverable in full, providing the assets are still in use by the business at the time of EDR. HMRC state that there has been no change of policy on this matter, however, experience insists that that there have been cases where they have sought to limit the amount of VAT claimable prior to registration.  This brings the VAT treatment into line with what many advisers always thought the position to be.


UK legislation permits businesses which have become VAT registered to recover tax incurred on goods and services purchased before their EDR. This is so as long as the purchases are used in taxable activities post EDR. The “simplified” rules are now:

  • Services

Services must have been received less than six months before the EDR for VAT to be deductible. This excludes services that have been supplied onwards pre EDR. There may be a restriction to VAT recovery if a business is partly exempt. A guide to partial exemption here

  • Goods

Input tax incurred on goods which were purchased within four years of EDR and are still on hand at the time of EDR may be recovered in full (subject to any partial exemption restriction). Input tax on goods which were consumed or sold prior to EDR do not qualify for recovery.  This rule also applies to fixed assets.

Please contact us if your business, or that of your clients have been the subject of a disallowance of input tax in these circumstances.

VAT Latest from the courts – exemption for sporting facilities by an eligible body

By   November 8, 2016

rugby-2St Andrew’s College, Bradfield

This Upper Tribunal case demonstrates the importance of getting the structure right. Full case here


Exemption exists for an eligible body making certain supplies of sporting services.


St Andrew’s College is a boarding school and a registered charity.  It is the representative member of a VAT group which also included two subsidiary companies. The companies provided facilities for playing sport and the group intended to treat these as exempt supplies.  HMRC challenged the intended treatment on the basis that the subsidiaries did not qualify as eligible bodies via VAT Act 1994, Schedule 9, Group 10 (exemption related to sport, sports competitions and physical education). It was agreed that all of the other criteria were met, so the case turned on the definition of an eligible body.  It was common ground that the College, as an educational charity, was itself an eligible body. Even though, as the representative member of the VAT group, the College was treated as making all supplies actually made by the subsidiaries, that did not mean that the supplies were exempt.


In order to be regarded as an eligible body the subsidiaries were required to be a non-profit making body.  What was relevant here was whether the subsidiaries (themselves) had specific restrictions on their ability to distribute any profit that they made.  The UT formed the view that there was no specific restriction and that although profits were only covenanted up to the College this was insufficient to meet the test in Group 10 Note (2A).  It was also found that the deeds of covenant did not, of themselves, establish that the subsidiaries could make distributions only to non-profit making bodies.

Consequently, the subsidiaries failed to qualify for exemption and that the First Tier Tribunal correctly found that output tax was due on the income from provision of sporting facilities.


This case highlights the importance of putting in place a correct structure and to ensure that it reflects the intention of the supplier.  One may see that in this scenario it would have been relatively simple to arrange matters to accurately reflect the aims of the group.  Care would have been required in drafting documentation etc as matters stood, or rearranging the supply chain.

It should also be noted that there are specific anti-avoidance provisions in place for certain suppliers of sporting services (although not in issue here). Advice should be taken at an early stage in planning to ensure that if exemption is desired, that it is achieved if possible.

Professional Conduct in relation to Tax

By   November 4, 2016

tax-avoidance-2A note on “aggressive” tax planning

Such tax planning is often viewed as tax avoidance by HMRC. We do not involve ourselves in such activities, and details of our attitude to aggressive planning are set out here and may be summarised as “Marcus Ward Consultancy Ltd does not market, advise on, or advocate aggressive schemes…“

However, it is worth highlighting a recent announcement made jointly by several professional bodies.  The main bodies are; Chartered Institute of Taxation, Association of Taxation Technicians, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, and Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.  They have issued a revised version of Professional and Ethical standards for tax advisers. The salient new standard is that Members

i) must not create, encourage or promote tax planning arrangements or structures that set out to achieve results that are contrary to the clear intention of Parliament in enacting relevant legislation, and/or

ii) are highly artificial or highly contrived and seek to exploit shortcomings within the relevant legislation.

Breaching this new requirement may result in disciplinary action. The new guidance has been endorsed by HMRC here and full details from our Institute here

You may rest assured that we already refuse to advocate these schemes and are pleased to see the introduction of these new standards.

Please contact us if you have any questions on this matter.

VAT Latest from the courts – more on agent or principal

By   November 2, 2016

hotel-2Whether a business acts as agent or principal in respect of hotel accommodation

In the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of Limited (H4U) further consideration was given to the relationship of parties in travel/accommodation services.  This follows on from the recent Supreme Court case of Secret Hotels 2 Ltd which we considered here


H4U entered into contracts with suppliers of hotel rooms and displayed details of the hotels on its website. Travellers and travel agents are able to book online, pay a deposit and receive a voucher which enabled them to occupy the relevant accommodation when presented to the hotel.

The FTT was required to decide whether H4U was acting as agent or principal in respect of these supplies made to travellers and travel agents.  If acting as principal, output tax would be due via the Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme (TOMS).  If acting as agent, the place of supply (POS) would be outside the UK and no UK VAT would be due.  We are aware that many of our clients are in a similar position so this decision will be important to them.


H4U contended that that its position was indistinguishable from the Secret Hotels 2 Ltd case such that it should be regarded as an agent.  The FTT upheld this contention for most of the relevant transactions (based on contracts which contained sufficient evidence to enable the Tribunal to reach a decision in UK law) so H4U could be seen as acting as agent.  H4U also argued that HMRC’s intention to seek a reference to the CJEU in respect of the interpretation of the EU Principal VAT Directive Article 306 on the meaning of “acting solely as an intermediary”’ (whether that is different from an agent in English law) was an attempt to re-argue the matter before the CJEU and should be resisted. The FTT stated that it was only considering the position under UK law.


We understand that there are a number of similar ongoing appeals and this decision may be of benefit to them.  It also underlines the fact that documentation, and how each party acts, is important in determining the relationship.  No one piece of evidence on its own may be decisive but goes to form part of the overall picture.  As always in agent/principal cases, it is crucial that the documentation accurately represents the actual transaction.  Contracts can play a big part, as can the Terms & Conditions and wording on websites and advertisements.  Broadly, as a starting point, it must be clear to the customer that an agent is acting on behalf of a named principal; without this information, HMRC will likely form the view that there is no agency arrangement and that the “intermediary” party is acting as an undisclosed agent (for all intents and purposes acting as principal).  This means that any supply would be seen to be made to, and by the agent, such that (in this case) output tax would be due using TOMS.


We shall have to wait and see whether HMRC is successful in making a reference on the possible distinction between the meaning of agent in UK and EC law.

In the meantime, any businesses which are involved in agency/principal relationships, not just in the travel field, may benefit from taking advice on whether their arrangements are affected by these two cases and whether there may be value in putting planning in place.