Monthly Archives: January 2017

VAT – What is a caravan? Latest from the courts

By   January 27, 2017

motorhome (2)Motorhomes versus caravans…

In the Upper Tribunal (UT) case of Oak Tree Motorhomes Limited the simple issue was whether motorhomes may be considered to fall within the definition of a “caravan” and thus benefit from certain zero rating provisions.  Oak Tree sold certain vehicles commonly called ‘motor homes’, ‘motor caravans’ and ‘campervans’

The VAT Act 1994, Section 30(2) provides that supplies of goods of a description specified in Schedule 8 are zero-rated. At the relevant time this was VAT Act 1994, Schedule 8, Group 9, item 1 which described the following goods: “Caravans exceeding the limits of size for the time being permitted for the use on roads of a trailer drawn by a motor vehicle having an unladen weight of less than 2,030 kilogrammes.” Oak Tree contended that the sales of their vehicles were covered by this item and thus should have been zero rated rather than standard rated.

So what is a caravan?

The term is not defined in the VAT legislation, but HMRC base its interpretation on the definitions in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and the Caravans Sites Act 1968 as set out in Public Notice 701/20 para 2.1.  In that Notice HMRC state that:

“A caravan is a structure that:

  • is designed or adapted for human habitation
  • when assembled, is physically capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed or by being transported on a motor vehicle so designed or adapted), and
  • is no more than:
  • 20 metres long (exclusive of any drawbar)
  • 8 metres wide, or
  • 05 metres high (measured internally from the floor at the lowest level to the ceiling at the highest level)”

(Note: No reference is made to engine here).

The Decision

It was accepted by HMRC that the vehicles were large enough to qualify as caravans, so the matter turned on the interpretation of a “caravan” and whether the fact that the relevant vehicles incorporated an engine disbarred them. The UT did not appear to waste much time in agreeing with the First Tier Tribunal that a motorhome was not a caravan.  This was so even though accommodation in a motorhome and a qualifying caravan might be almost identical. The UT considered that the First Tier Tribunal’s interpretation of “caravan” by reference to the Oxford English Dictionary was appropriate. An important definition being one which refers to a caravan as generally “…able to be towed”. It was also decided that an engine represented “…an obvious and significant distinction” between a caravan and a motorhome.  It is also interesting that despite HMRC’s Notice referring to the Caravan Act 1960, the UT considered that this should not be used in determining whether a vehicle should be regarded as a caravan


This was almost a foregone conclusion, but the appellant obviously thought it was worth another bite at the cherry as the claim was worth over £1.1 million (and an ongoing saving). There are lots of areas involving caravans that throw up VAT oddities, including, but not limited to; pitches, skirts, contents, holiday homes and compound/multiple supplies here 

It may also mean that HMRC will have to consider redrafting Notice 701/20

If a business is involved in any transactions involving caravans it would be prudent to consider whether all of the available reliefs are being taken advantage of, and whether VATable supplies have been correctly identified.

VAT (GST) Introduction in India delayed

By   January 23, 2017

india-416777_960_720 (2)It was recently announced that the Indian version of VAT: Goods & Services Tax – GST is intended to be rolled out across the country on 1 July 2017 rather than the previously announced date of April 2017. This is after details of how the income will be shared between various authorities has been agreed.

It is anticipated that GST will follow the European model and that the tax base will be comprehensive, as virtually all goods and services will be taxable, with minimum exemptions.  GST will incorporate and replace all the various central taxes such as: Central Excise Duty, Additional Excise Duty, Service Tax, Additional Custom Duty and Special Additional Duty as well as state-level taxes such as Value Added Tax or Sales Tax, Central Sales Tax, Entertainment Tax, Entry Tax, Purchase Tax, Luxury Tax.

The introduction of GST is likely to bring in significant changes to doing business in India or with Indian suppliers/customers cross-border.

Please contact us should you have any queries on this matter.


VAT – Overseas Holiday Lets: A Warning

By   January 16, 2017
hotel-room-key-397946_960_720 (2)Do you, or your clients, own property overseas which you let to third parties when you are not using it yourself?

It is important to understand the VAT consequences of owning property overseas.

The position of UK Holiday Lets

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 £83,000 pa. and this is only likely if a number of properties are owned.

It should be noted that, unlike other types of rental of homes, holiday lettings are always taxable for VAT purposes.

Overseas Holiday Lets

Other EC Member States have nil thresholds for foreign entrepreneurs.  This means that if any rental income is received, VAT registration is likely to be compulsory. Consequently, a property owner that rents out a property abroad will probably have a liability to register for VAT in the country that the property is located.  Failure to comply with the domestic legislation of the relevant Member State may mean; payment of back VAT and interest and fines being levied. 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.  This may be restricted if the home is used for periodical own use.

Given that every EC Member State has differing rules and/or procedures to the UK, it is crucial to check all the consequences of letting property overseas. Additionally, if any other services are supplied, eg; transport, this gives rise to a whole new (and significantly more complex) set of VAT rules.

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 local 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 if you are affected by this matter; we have the resources to advise and act on a worldwide basis.

VAT Self-billing and latest from the courts

By   January 6, 2017

scrap-2Self-billing: where the customer issues the invoice (and how this can go wrong).

A recent case Court of Appeal case: GB Housley here has highlighted the inherent dangers of using the self-billing system.  Self-billing is a very useful mechanism for a lot of businesses, especially in respect of activities like royalties and scrap purchases where the supplier may not know (or know immediately) the value of the supply.  Before we look at the case, it may be useful to recap the rules for self-billing.

Self-billing is an arrangement between a supplier and a customer. Both customer and supplier must be VAT registered. The customer prepares the supplier’s invoice and forwards a copy to the supplier with the payment.  There is no requirement to notify HMRC or get approval for using the arrangement.

If you are the customer

You issue the documentation and you are able to reclaim as input tax the VAT shown on the self-billing invoice.

In order to set up self-billing arrangements with your supplier you are required to:

  • enter into an agreement with each supplier
  • review agreements with suppliers at regular intervals
  • keep records of each of the suppliers who let you self-bill them
  • make sure invoices contain the required information and are correctly issued

If a supplier stops being registered for VAT then you can continue to self-bill them, but you can’t issue them with VAT invoices. Your self-billing arrangement with that supplier is no longer covered by the VAT regulations.

Self-billing agreements

You can only operate a self-billing arrangement if your supplier agrees to put one in place. If you don’t have an agreement with your supplier your self-billed invoices won’t be valid, and you won’t be able to reclaim the input tax shown on them.

Both parties need to sign a formal self-billing agreement. This is a legally binding document. The agreement must contain:

  • your supplier’s agreement that you, as the self-biller, can issue invoices on your supplier’s behalf
  • your supplier’s confirmation that they won’t issue VAT invoices for goods or services covered by the agreement
  • an expiry date – usually for 12 months’ time but it could be the date that any business contract you have with your supplier ends
  • your supplier’s agreement that they’ll let you know if they stop being registered for VAT
  • details of any third party you intend to outsource the self-billing process to

Reviewing self-billing agreements

Self-billing agreements usually last for 12 months. At the end of this you will need to review the agreement to make sure you can prove to HMRC that your supplier agrees to accept the self-billing invoices you issue on their behalf. It’s very important that you don’t self-bill a supplier when you don’t have their written agreement to do so.

Record keeping

If you are a self-biller you’ll need to keep certain records. These are:

  • copies of the agreements you make with your suppliers
  • the names, addresses and VAT registration numbers of the suppliers who have agreed that you can self-bill them

If you don’t keep the required records, then the self-billed invoices you issue won’t be proper VAT invoices.

All self-billed invoices must include the statement “The VAT shown is your output tax due to HMRC”.

It is important that a business does not add VAT to self-billed invoices that it issues to suppliers who are not VAT-registered.

A business will only be able to reclaim  input tax shown on self-billed invoices if it meets all the record keeping requirements.

If you are a VAT registered supplier

If one of your customers wants to set up a self-billing arrangement with you, they’ll ask you to agree to this in writing. If you agree, they will give you a self-billing agreement to sign.

For VAT purposes you will be required to do all of the following:

  • sign and keep a copy of the self-billing agreement
  • agree not to issue any sales invoices to your customer for any transaction during the period of the agreement
  • agree to accept the self-billing invoices that your customer issues
  • tell your customer at once if you change your VAT registration number, deregister from VAT, or transfer your business as a going concern

The VAT figure on the self-billed invoice your customer sends you is your output tax.   You are accountable to HMRC for output tax on the supplies you make to your customer, so you should check that your customer is applying the correct rate of VAT on the invoices they send you. If there has been a VAT rate change, you will need to check that the correct rate has been used.

The Case

The issues were whether the lack of formalised self-billing agreements disqualified the use of self-billing, and if that was the case, whether alternative evidence should have been accepted to support a claim for input tax. The CoA discharged HMRC’s assessment which was issued to GB Housley – a scrap metal merchant.

The assessment was based on input tax claims made on the basis of the self-billed documents.  It was ruled that although the self-billing was used in error, HMRC should have considered alternative evidence and used its discretion on whether to allow the claims on transactions which took place. For this reason, as it is unclear whether HMRC would have assessed if they had considered other information, the assessment should be removed.

A timely warning to ensure that all of the conditions of self-billing arrangements are met, and that this is clearly demonstrable.  Ongoing monitoring is crucial for businesses operating self-billing as an overlooked change can affect the VAT treatment.

In this case, it looks like the applicant was rather fortunate, but this outcome cannot be relied on if self-billing is applied incorrectly.

We are able to advise on such agreements, arrangements and accounting.

Crime doesn’t pay……..VAT. Is there tax on illegal activities?

By   January 4, 2017
A gentle introduction to VAT for the new year.  A number of people have been surprised to find that crime does pay tax, thank you very much. It seems bad enough that the police should chase and catch you, put you in the dock and send you to prison, without finding that your first visitor is HMRC….


Dodgy perfume?Black Market

Goodwin & Unstead were in business selling counterfeit perfume. They were also up-front about what they were doing. Unstead claimed that “Everything I can carry in my vehicle, everything I trade in and sell, is a complete copy of the real thing. I do not sell goods as the real thing. In fact I sell my goods for a quarter of the original price. I am not out to defraud or con the public. I only appeal to the poseurs in life.”

The real manufacturers might have sued these men for passing off the product of their chemistry experiments in trademarked bottles, but it was HMRC who sent them to jail – for failing to register and pay VAT on their sales. The amount they should have collected was estimated at £750,000, which shows that they must have appealed to a great many poseurs.
If they had paid the VAT, Customs would have had no problem with them. Their customers must have been reasonably satisfied – if your counterfeit perfume smells something like the real thing, why worry?
They tried to get out of jail with an ingenious argument – if the sale of the perfume was illegal, surely there shouldn’t be VAT on it. It wasn’t legitimate business activity, so it wasn’t something that ought to be taxable. The European Court had no time for this. They pointed out that it would give lawbreakers an advantage over lawful businesses; they wouldn’t have to charge VAT. The judges suggested that maybe people would even deliberately break the law so they could get out of tax; in this case, the only thing that made the trade illegal was treading on someone’s trademark rights, and that was something that might happen at any time in legitimate businesses. The judges said that VAT would apply to any trade which competed in a legal marketplace, even if the particular sales broke the law for some reason. Counterfeit perfume is VATable because real perfume is too. Of course, Customs have traditionally had two main roles – looking for drug smugglers, and dealing with VAT-registered traders. They have generally treated both with much the same suspicion, but the ECJ made it clear in this case that the two sets of customers are completely separate.

“Personal” services?

Customers paid the escort £130, of which £30 was paid to the agency. VAT on £130 or VAT on £30?

The first hearing before the Tribunal went something like this (this may be using artistic licence, but the published summary implies it was so):

HMRC: “We think the VAT should be on £130 because the escorts are acting as agents of the escort business.”
Trader: “No, it’s just £30, the £100 belongs to the escort and is nothing to do with me.”
Tribunal chairman: “All right, tell me a bit about how the business operates.”
Customs: “No.”
Tribunal chairman: “What?”
Customs: “You don’t want to know.”
Tribunal chairman: “How can I decide whether the escorts are acting as agent or principals without knowing how the business operates?”
Customs: “Don’t go there, just give us a decision.”
Tribunal chairman: “Trader, you tell me how the business operates.”
Trader: “I agree with him, you don’t want to know.”
The Tribunal seems to have been a bit baffled by this. They were aware that Customs had a great deal more evidence which had been collected during the course of a thorough investigation, and they asked the parties to go away and decide whether they might let the Tribunal see a bit more of it so they could make a judgement rather than a guess.

What about drugs then?

It’s well-known that you are allowed to smoke dope in some establishments in Amsterdam, although the Dutch authorities are thinking about restricting this to Netherlands’ residents. They may find that such a rule contravenes the European Law on freedom of movement – under the EU treaty, you can’t be meaner to foreigners than you are to your own people just because they are foreign. That’s a nice idea, but individuals and governments keep trying it on. Anyway, the Coffeeshop Siberie rented space to drug dealers who would sell cannabis at tables for people to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere. Presumably they are preparing to examine passports or local utility bills before making the sale, if only the Dutch are to be allowed to get stoned. Anyway, the Dutch authorities asked the coffee shop’s owners for VAT on the rent paid by the dealers, and the owners appealed to the ECJ. This time, surely, it was sufficiently illegal. Although the consumption of drugs was tolerated, it was still against the law, and it must therefore be not VATable.
The judges pointed out that the coffee shop was not actually selling drugs. They were just providing the space for other people to sell drugs. Although selling drugs was completely illegal, and there was no legitimate market in cannabis, renting space was a normal business activity. Renting space to someone who did something illegal with it was in the same category as the dodgy perfume sales in Goodwin & Unstead: it was a bit illegal, but not illegal enough. The VAT was still due.


In a German case, the ECJ ruled that the importation of counterfeit money was outside the scope of VAT. The Advocate-General observed that a line must be drawn between, on the one hand, transactions that lie so clearly outside the sphere of legitimate economic activity that, instead of being taxed, they can only be the subject of criminal prosecution, and, on the other hand, transactions which though unlawful must nonetheless be taxed, if only for ensuring in the name of fiscal neutrality, that the criminal is not treated more favourably than the legitimate trader’.

So, there you have it, if you are of a criminal disposition, and you want to avoid VAT, funny money is the way to go.  Please note, this does not constitute advice…..!