Monthly Archives: December 2016

VAT: Latest from the courts – Pole Tax?

By   December 20, 2016

pole(Pardon the dreadful pun).

The Court of Appeal case of Wilton Park Ltd and Secrets Ltd


The appellant operated an “exotic dancing” club which featured table and lap dancing.  It received commission from self-employed dancers which was treated as exempt from VAT.  This was on the basis that the commissions were charged on redemption of vouchers (known as Secrets Money) such that it represented the services of dealing with security for money.  Customers were able to purchase Secrets Money with the addition of a 20% commission. The vouchers were used to pay individual dancers who subsequently needed to exchange the vouchers for cash.  The taxpayer charged a 20% fee for such a conversion.

The issue

The issue was whether face-value vouchers issued by appellant companies constituted “…any security for money” within the VAT Act 1994, Schedule 9, Group 5, item 1.   HMRC argued that the redemption of the vouchers was part of a taxable supply of performance facilitation services by the taxpayer and thus standard rated.


Not surprisingly, the CoA dismissed the appeal, agreeing with both the FTT and UT in holding that the provision of the club’s facilities formed part of the consideration for the commission an consequently was not an exempt supply.


This appears a rather desperate appeal, and there still remains the possibility that the taxpayer could take the matter to the Supreme Court.  It illustrates that simply putting in a mechanism which adds a degree of complexity does not affect the overriding VAT analysis.  What was provided and what was paid for here seems reasonably apparent and it is quite a leap to consider the structure was simply exchanging vouchers for cash.  It also occurs that this would be a very straightforward way for other businesses to avoid paying VAT if the appellant had been successful.

For more on this subject (should that be your thing…….) a read of the Spearmint Rhino case not only explores the structure/relationship between dancers and club owners but is also rather good entertainment and provides an amusing yet illustrative overview of the agent/principal issue (and is not salacious in the least…..).

Oops! – Top Ten VAT howlers

By   December 16, 2016

anxiety-2I am often asked what the most frequent VAT errors made by a business are. I usually reply along the lines of “a general poor understanding of VAT, considering the tax too late or just plain missing a VAT issue”.  While this is unquestionably true, a little further thought results in this top ten list of VAT horrors:

  1. Not considering that HMRC may be wrong. There is a general assumption that HMRC know what they are doing. While this is true in most cases, the complexity and fast moving nature of the tax can often catch an inspector out. Added to this is the fact that in most cases inspectors refer to HMRC guidance (which is HMRC’s interpretation of the law) rather to the legislation itself. Reference to the legislation isn’t always straightforward either, as often EC rather than UK domestic legislation is cited to support an analysis. The moral to the story is that tax is complicated for the regulator as well, and no business should feel fearful or reticent about challenging a HMRC decision.
  2. Missing a VAT issue altogether. A lot of errors are as a result of VAT not being considered at all. This is usually in relation to unusual or one-off transactions (particularly land and property or sales of businesses). Not recognising a VAT “triggerpoint” can result in an unexpected VAT bill, penalties and interest, plus a possible reduction of income of 20% or an added 20% in costs. Of course, one of the basic howlers is not registering at the correct time. Beware the late registration penalty, plus even more stringent penalties if HMRC consider that not registering has been done deliberately.
  3.  Not considering alternative structures. If VAT is looked at early enough, there is very often ways to avoid VAT representing a cost. Even if this is not possible, there may be ways of mitigating a VAT hit.
  4.  Assuming that all transactions with overseas customers are VAT free. There is no “one size fits all” treatment for cross border transactions. There are different rules for goods and services and a vast array of different rules for different services. The increase in trading via the internet has only added to the complexity in this area, and with new technology only likely to increase the rate of new types of supply it is crucial to consider the implications of tax; in the UK and elsewhere.
  5.  Leaving VAT planning to the last minute. VAT is time sensitive and it is not usually possible to plan retrospectively. Once an event has occurred it is normally too late to amend any transactions or structures. VAT shouldn’t wag the commercial dog, but failure to deal with it at the right time may be either a deal-breaker or a costly mistake.
  6.  Getting the option to tax wrong. Opting to tax is one area of VAT where a taxpayer has a choice. This affords the possibility of making the wrong choice, for whatever reasons. Not opting to tax when beneficial, or opting when it is detrimental can hugely impact on the profitability of a project. Not many businesses can carry the cost of, say, not being able to recover VAT on the purchase of a property, or not being able to recover input tax on a big refurbishment. Additionally, seeing expected income being reduced by 20% will usually wipe out any profit in a transaction.
  7.  Not realising a business is partly exempt. For a business, exemption is a VAT cost, not a relief. Apart from the complexity of partial exemption, a partly exempt business will not be permitted to reclaim all of the input tax it incurs and this represents an actual cost. In fact, a business which only makes exempt supplies will not be able to VAT register, so all input tax will be lost. There is a lot of planning that may be employed for partly exempt businesses and not taking advantage of this often creates additional VAT costs.
  8.  Relying on the partial exemption standard method to the business’ disadvantage. A partly exempt business has the opportunity to consider many methods to calculate irrecoverable input tax. The default method, the “standard method” often provides an unfair and costly result. I recommend that any partly exempt business obtains a review of its activities from a specialist. I have been able to save significant amounts for clients simply by agreeing an alternative partial exemption method with HMRC.
  9.  Not taking advantage of the available reliefs. There are a range of reliefs available, if one knows where to look. From Bad Debt Relief, Zero Rating (VAT nirvana!) and certain de minimis limits to charity reliefs and the Flat Rate Scheme, there are a number of easements and simplifications which could save a business money and reduce administrative and time costs.
  10.  Forgetting the impact of the Capital Goods Scheme. The range of costs covered by this scheme has been expanded recently. Broadly, VAT incurred on certain expenditure is required to be adjusted over a five or ten year period. Failure to recognise this could either result in assessments and penalties, or a position whereby input tax has been under-claimed. The CGS also “passes on” when a TOGC occurs, so extra caution is necessary in these cases.

So, you may ask: “How do I make sure that I avoid these VAT pitfalls?” – And you would be right to ask.

Of course, I would recommend that you engage a VAT specialist to help reduce the exposure to VAT costs!

VAT – A Christmas Tale

By   December 12, 2016
Well, it is Christmas….

Dear Marcus

My business, if that is what it is, has become large enough for me to fear that HMRC might take an interest in my activities.  May I explain what I do and then you can write to me with your advice?  If you think a face to face meeting would be better I can be found in most decent sized department stores from mid September to 24 December.

First of all I am based in Greenland but I do bring a stock of goods, mainly toys, to the UK and I distribute them.  Am I making supplies in the UK?

The toys are of course mainly for children and I wonder if zero rating might apply?  I have heard that small T shirts are zero rated so what about a train set – it is small and intended for children. Does it matter if adults play with it?

My friend Rudolph has told me that there is a peculiar rule about gifts.  He says that if I give them away regularly and they cost more than £150 I might have to account for VAT.  Is that right?

My next question concerns barter transactions.  Dads often leave me a food item such as a mince pie and a drink and there is an unwritten rule that I should then leave something in return.  If I’m given Tesco’s own brand sherry I will leave polyester underpants but if I’m left a glass of Glenfiddich I will be more generous and leave best woollen socks.  Have I made a supply and what is the value please?  My feeling is that the food items are not solicited so VAT might not be due and, in any event; isn’t food zero-rated, or is it catering? Oh, and what if the food is hot?

Transport is a big worry for me.  Lots of children ask me for a ride on my airborne transport.  I suppose I could manage to fit 12 passengers in.  Does that mean my services are zero-rated?  If I do this free of charge will I need to charge air passenger duty?  Does it matter if I stay within the UK?  My transport is the equivalent of six horse power and if I refuel with fodder in the UK will I be liable for fuel scale charges?  After dropping the passengers off I suppose I will be accused of using fuel for the private journey back home.  Somebody has told me that if I buy hay labelled as animal food I can avoid VAT but if I buy the much cheaper bedding hay I will need to pay VAT.  Please comment.

Can I also ask about VAT registration?  I know the limit is £83,000 per annum but do blips count?  If I do make supplies at all, I do nothing for 364 days and then, in one day (well night really) I blast through the limit and then drop back to nil turnover.  May I be excused from registration?  If I do need to register should I use AnNOEL Accounting?  At least I can get only one penalty per annum if I get the sums wrong.

I would like to make a claim for input tax on clothing.  I feel that my red clothing not only protects me from the extreme cold but it is akin to a uniform and should be allowable.  These are not clothes that I would choose to wear except for my fairly unusual job.  If lady barristers can claim for black skirts I think I should be able to claim for red dress.  And what about my annual haircut?  That costs a fortune.  I only let my hair grow that long because it is expected of me.

Insurance worries me too.  You know that I carry some very expensive goods on my transport.  Play Stations, Mountain Bikes, i-pads and Accrington Stanley replica shirts for example.  My parent company in Greenland takes out insurance there and they make a charge to me.  If I am required to register for VAT in England will I need to apply the reverse charge?  This seems to be a daft idea if I understand it correctly.  Does it mean I have to charge myself VAT on something that is not VATable and then claim it back again?

Next you’ll be telling me that Father Christmas isn’t real……….


VAT Splitting a business to avoid registration: Disaggregation

By   December 8, 2016

chop-2I have a cunning plan to avoid registering for VAT…….

….I’ll simply split my business into separate parts which are all under the VAT registration turnover limit – ha!

I’ve heard this said many a time in “bloke in the pub” situations. But is it possible?

You will not be surprised to learn that HMRC don’t like such schemes and there is legislation and case law for them to use to attack such planning known as “disaggregation”. This simply means artificially splitting a business.

What HMRC will consider to be artificial separation:

HMRC will be concerned with separations which are a contrived device set up to circumvent the normal VAT registration rules. Whether any particular separation will be considered artificial will, in most cases, depend upon the specific circumstances. Accordingly it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of all the types of separations that HMRC will view as artificial. However, the following are examples of when HMRC would at least make further enquiries:

Separate entities supply registered and unregistered customers

In this type of separation, the registered entity supplies any registered customers and the unregistered part supplies unregistered customers.

Same equipment/premises used by different entities on a regular basis

In this type of situation, a series of entities operates the same equipment and/or premises for a set period in any one-week or month. Generally the premises and/or equipment is owned by one of the parties who charges rent to the others. This situation may occur in launderettes and take-aways such as fish and chip shops or mobile catering equipment.

Splitting up of what is usually a single supply

This type of separation is common in the bed and breakfast trade where one entity supplies the bed and another the breakfast. Another is in the livery trade where one entity supplies the stabling and another, the hay to feed the animals. There are more complex examples, but the similar tests are applied to them too.

Artificially separated businesses which maintain the appearance of a single business

A simple example of this type of separation includes; pubs in which the bar and catering may be artificially separated. In most cases the customer will consider the food and the drinks as bought from the pub and not from two independent businesses. The relationship between the parties in such circumstances will be important here as truly franchised “shop within a shop” arrangements will not normally be considered artificial.

One person has a controlling influence in a number of entities which all make the same type of supply in diverse locations

In this type of separation a number of outlets which make the same type of supplies are run by separate companies which are under the control of the same person. Although this is not as frequently encountered as some of the other situations, the resulting tax loss may be significant.

The meaning of financial, economic and organisational links

Again each case will depend on its specific circumstances. The following examples illustrate the types of factors indicative of the necessary links, although there will be many others:

Financial links

  • financial support given by one part to another part
  • one part would not be financially viable without support from another part
  • common financial interest in the proceeds of the business

Economic links

  • seeking to realise the same economic objective
  • the activities of one part benefit the other part
  • supplying the same circle of customers

Organisational links

  •  common management
  • common employees
  • common premises
  • common equipment

HMRC often attack structures which were not designed simply to avoid VAT registration, so care should be taken when any entity VAT registers, or a conscious decision is made not to VAT register. Registration is a good time to have a business’ activities and structure reviewed by an adviser.

As with most aspects of VAT, there are significant and draconian penalties for getting registration wrong, especially if HMRC consider that it has been done deliberately to avoid paying VAT.

VAT – EC proposal for new rules for e-commerce and online businesses

By   December 1, 2016

books-tablet-1632908_960_720-2The EC has announced measures to simplify VAT for e-commerce businesses in the EU. The proposals will purportedly allow consumers and businesses to buy and sell goods and services more easily online.

 New VAT rules for sales and goods and services online

Currently, online traders have to register for VAT in all the Member States to which they sell goods. Often cited as one of the biggest barriers to cross-border e-commerce, these VAT obligations cost businesses around €8,000 for every EU country into which they sell. We are now proposing that businesses make one simple quarterly return for the VAT due across the whole of the EU, using the online VAT One Stop Shop. This system already exists for sales of e‑services such as mobile phone apps, and has been proven successful with more than €3 billion in VAT being collected through the system in 2015. Administrative burdens for companies will be reduced by a staggering 95%, giving an overall saving to EU business of €2.3 billion and increasing VAT revenues for Member States by €7 billion.

Simplifying VAT rules for micro-businesses and start-ups

A new annual threshold of €10,000 in online sales will be introduced under which businesses selling cross-border can continue to apply the VAT rules they are used to in their home country. This will make complying with VAT rules easier for 430,000 companies across the EU, representing 97% of all micro-business trading cross‑border. A second new yearly threshold of €100,000 will make life easier for SMEs when it comes to VAT, with simplified rules for identifying where their customers are based. The thresholds could be applied as early as 2018 on e‑services, and by 2021 for online goods. Other simplifications would allow the smallest businesses to benefit from the same familiar VAT rules of their home country, such as invoicing requirements and record keeping. The first point of contact will always be with the tax administration where the business is located and businesses will no longer be audited by each Member State where they have sales.

VAT fraud from outside the EU – Removal of Low Value Consignment (LVC) relief

Small consignments imported into the EU that are worth less than €22 are currently exempt from VAT. With around 150 million parcels imported free of VAT into the EU each year, the EC says that this system is open to massive fraud and abuse, creating major distortions against EU business. Firstly, EU businesses are put at a clear disadvantage since unlike their non-EU competitors, they are liable to apply VAT from the first eurocent sold. Secondly, imported high-value goods such as smartphones and tablets are consistently undervalued or wrongly described in the importation paperwork in order to benefit from this VAT exemption. The Commission has therefore decided to remove LVC relief

Equal rules for taxing e-books, e-newspapers and their printed equivalents

Current rules allow Member States to tax printed publications such as books and newspapers at reduced rates or, in some cases, super-reduced or zero rates. The same rules exclude e-publications, meaning that these products must be taxed at the standard rate. Once agreed by all Member States, the new set-up will allow (but not oblige) Member States to align the rates on e-publications to those on printed publications.


Please contact us if any of the above affects your business or your client’s businesses.

VAT Snippet – e-supplies to Russia

By   December 1, 2016

russia_moscow-3New VAT rules for B2C supplies to Russian recipients

If your business, or your client’s business provide electronically supplied services to private consumers* in Russia new rules will require foreign (“non-established“) businesses to register and pay VAT on their supplies.

These rules will come into effect from 1 January 2017.

Supplies of such services will be subject to the Russian standard VAT rate of 15.25% of gross revenue.

For the purposes of this legislation electronically supplied services include (but are not limited to):

  • e-books
  • streaming of music and film
  • online access to games and download of games to electronic devices
  • services of social networking sites
  • cloud computing
  • hosting of websites
  • access to search engines
  • internet service providers
  • broadcasting of TV or radio channels
  • online advertising
  • data storage,
  • and other similar services

This definition broadly follows the definition for EU supplies.

Quarterly VAT returns will be required, however, there will be no right to recover input tax on these returns.

Place of belonging

As with any e-sales, it is important to have a procedure in place in order to establish the place of belonging of all customers as this will dictate what (if any) VAT is applicable, and to which authority payment should be made.  In broader terms, the rules for Distance selling must also be adhered to. Guide here 

* Russian definition of place of an individual customer – A “private consumer” is deemed to be in Russia if his/her living place is in Russia; or if he/she purchased the service by using a Russian bank (or a Russian electronic money operator), a network address registered in Russia, or a phone number with the Russia’s country code.

This follows an international trend as may be seen with similar developments here

If you are affected by this new VAT legislation, please contact us.  We have a worldwide network which can take the pain out of international VAT compliance and avoid a business inadvertently triggering swingeing penalties and interest overseas. Please see further details of this service here