Monthly Archives: March 2017

Changes to the VAT Flat Rate Scheme – A reminder

By   March 31, 2017

Flat Rate Scheme (FRS)

I have looked at the changes to the FRS and the impact of these here

This is a timely reminder for all businesses using the FRS as changes to the scheme come into effect tomorrow: 1 April 2017.

The first matter to consider is if your business is a “limited cost trader”. This may be done on the HMRC website here

Relevant costs, in this instance, only include goods (please see below). 

If not a limited cost trader no further action is required.

If a business qualifies as a limited cost trader (which is likely to include, but not limited to, labour-intensive businesses where very little is spent on goods) there are the following choices.


  • Continue on the FRS but using the increased percentage of 16.5% (which is effectively equal to the 20% rate).
  • Leave the FRS and use conventional VAT accounting
  • Deregister for VAT if a business’ turnover is below that of the deregistration limit – which will be £83,000 pa from tomorrow.

Relevant Goods

It should be noted that the goods referred to above mean goods that are used exclusively for the purposes of a business, but do not include:

  • vehicle costs including fuel, unless you’re operating in the transport sector using your own, or a leased vehicle
  • food or drink for you or your staff
  • capital expenditure goods of any value
  • goods for resale, leasing, letting or hiring out if your main business activity doesn’t ordinarily consist of selling, leasing, letting or hiring out such goods
  • goods that you intend to re-sell or hire out unless selling or hiring is your main business activity
  • any services

As may seen, the definition is very restrictive.  Failure to recognise this change is likely to result in penalties and interest being levied.

If you would like any advice on this matter, please contact us as soon as possible considering the timing of the implementation.


VAT Triangulation – What is it? Is it a simple “simplification”?

By   March 24, 2017

cargo-449784_960_720 (2)Unusually in the VAT world, Triangulation is a true simplification and is a benefit for businesses carrying out cross-border trade in goods.

What is it?

Triangulation is the term used to describe a chain of intra-EU supplies of goods involving three parties in three different Member States (MS). It applies in cases where, instead of the goods physically passing from one to the other, they are delivered directly from the first to the last party in the chain. Thus:



trig (2)In this example; a UK company (UKco) receives an order from a customer in Germany (Gco). To fulfil the order the UK supplier orders goods from its supplier in France (Fco). The goods are delivered from France to Germany.

Basic Treatment

Without simplification, UKco would be required to VAT register in either France or Germany to ensure that no VAT is lost.  That is; if registered in France, French VAT (TVA) would be charged to UKco, this would be recovered and the onward supply to Gco would be VAT free. The supply to Gco would be subject to acquisition tax in Germany.  VAT therefore is neutral to all parties.  Alternatively, UKco may choose to VAT register in Germany.  This would mean that it would be able to produce a German VAT number to Fco so to obtain the goods VAT free.  UKco would recover acquisition tax it applies to itself on the purchase and charge German VAT to Gco. Again, VAT is neutral to all parties.

Triangulation does away with these requirements.

To avoid creating a need for many companies to be structured in this way, Triangulation simplification was created via the EU VAT legislation (which is implemented across all MS) so, in this example, UKco is not required to register in any MS outside the EU.


Under the simplification procedure Fco issues an invoice to UKco without charging VAT and quoting UKco’s VAT number. UKco, in turn, issues an invoice to Gco without charging VAT. The invoice is required to show the narrative “VAT Simplification Invoice Article 141 simplification”.  Gco should account for the purchase from UKco in its German VAT Return using the Reverse Charge mechanism. Details of the Reverse Charge here

The Conditions

EU VAT Directive 2006/112/EC, Article 141 sets out the conditions which must be met for Triangulation simplification to apply. Using the example above these may be summarised as:

  • There are three different parties (separate taxable persons) VAT registered in three different MS
  • The goods are transported directly from Fco to Gco
  • The invoice flow involves Fco selling the goods to UKco (the intermediate supplier)
  • UKco supplier in turn invoices its customer, Gco
  • UKco must obtain a valid VAT number from Gco (MS of destination) and quote this number on its invoice
  • UKco must quote “Article 141 simplification” on its invoice to Gco.

Impact on businesses

A business may be involved in triangulation as either:

  • the first supplier of the goods (Fco in the example above),
  • the intermediate supplier (UKco in the example above), or
  • the final consumer (Gco in the example above).

In whichever role, it is important to ensure all relevant details have been obtained and the documentation is correct.

And after Brexit?

As in many areas, we do not yet know how Brexit will affect the UK’s relationship with the EU. In general, the “worse” case scenario for UK business is that this simplification will be unavailable and all cross-border transactions will be treated as exports and imports similar to any other transactions with countries outside the EU and UK business will need to VAT register in one or more MS in the EU. This will add complexity and possibly delays at borders for goods moving to and from the UK. It is also likely to create additional cash flow issues.

In these uncertain times it makes sense to keep abreast of the (likely) changing requirements and take advantage of the simplification while it lasts.


VAT Latest from the courts – Employment businesses

By   March 21, 2017

AdeccoUK (2)The Adecco case

In the Upper Tribunal (UT) case of Adecco the judge considered the tripartite situation between certain self-employed workers, employment businesses (Adecco) and the actual clients. Specifically, whether Adecco provides self-employed temporary workers to clients for the total consideration paid by client or only introductory services for commission retained by the employment business.  Broadly, whether temporary workers supply their services to Adecco or to the clients.


Based on the Reed Employment Ltd v HMRC [2011] UKFTT 200 (TC) “Reed” case.  Reed also concerned the VAT treatment of supplies by an employment bureau in relation to the services of non-employed temps. The FTT in Reed concluded that the employment bureau was making supplies of introductory services to clients in respect of the placement of non-employed temps. The value of the introductory services was the commission charged to clients for the introduction of the temps and the employment bureau was only required to charge and account for VAT on its commission and not on the non-employed temps’ remuneration. Following Reed, Adecco made claims for repayment of the VAT which it had charged and accounted for in respect of payments representing the non-employed temps’ remuneration. HMRC rejected the claims. One of the reasons given for the rejection was that Adecco did not merely supply a service of introducing the non-employed temps to the clients but also supplied the non-employed temps’ services.


The UT found in favour of HMRC. It found that output tax is due on the full amount paid by the clients rather than the commission retained.  The full amount included earnings paid to the temporary workers.  The decision was based on the contracts in place in this instant case and it is possible that a different outcome would have occurred if a wider view was taken and/or if the relationship between contracts and economic reality had been considered.


It is unlikely that this will be the definitive word on the matter and it is expected that further challenges to HMRC’s stance will be made given the two different outcomes in Reed and Adecco.  As always in these types of cases, it demonstrates the importance of contracts and careful consideration of the relationships between the parties.

For more on agent/principal relationships please see my articles on latest relevant court cases here and here

Please contact us if this case impacts on your business or that of your clients.

VAT Latest from the courts – Allocation of payments

By   March 13, 2017

cash-register-78741_960_720 (2)VAT payment problems

In the Upper Tribunal (UT) case of Swanfield Limited (Swanfield)

The matter was whether HMRC had the right to allocate payments made by the applicant to specific periods against the wishes of the taxpayer.


Swanfield was late with returns/payments such that it was subject to the Default Surcharge (DS) mechanism.  Details of the DS regime here

HMRC issued DSs to Swanfield, many at the maximum rate 15%. The total involved was said to be over £290,000. However, if the payments made by Swanfield had been allocated in a certain way (broadly; to recent debts as desired by the taxpayer) it would have substantially reduced the amount payable. However, HMRC allocated the payments to previous, older periods which were not the subject of a DS.

The Issue

The issue was relatively straightforward; did HMRC have the authority to allocate payments as they deemed fit, or could the taxpayer make payments for specific periods as required?

The Decision

The UT found that Swanfield were entitled to allocate payments made to amounts which would become due on supplies made in the (then) current period, even though the due date had not yet arrived.  Additionally, HMRC did not have the authority to unilaterally allocate payments made by the taxpayer to historical liabilities as they saw fit, in cases where the taxpayer has explicitly made those payments in relation to current periods.  In cases where there is no specific instruction in respect of allocation of the payment, HMRC was entitled to allocate payment without any obligation to minimise DS. The UT remitted this case back to the First Tier Tribunal to decide, as a matter of fact, whether Swanfield had actually made the necessary allocation.


This is a helpful case which sets out clearly the responsibilities of both parties.  It underlines the necessity of a taxpayer to focus on payments and how to manage a debt position to mitigate any penalties.  Staying silent on payments plays into the hands of HMRC. It is crucial to take a proper view of a business’ VAT payment position, especially if there is difficulties lodging returns of making payment. Planning often reduces the overall amount payable, or provides for additional time to pay (TTP).  A helpful overview of payment problems here

Things can be done if a business is getting into difficulties with VAT; whether they are; reporting, submitting returns, making payments, or if there are disputes with HMRC. There are also structures that may be put in place to assist with VAT cashflow.

We would always counsel a business not to bury its head in the sand if there are difficulties with HMRC.  Please make contact with us and, in almost all cases, we can improve the situation, along with providing some relief from worries. VAT may be payable, but there are ways of managing payments – as this case demonstrates.

VAT Latest from the courts – Evidence for zero rated exports

By   March 10, 2017

Container Freighter Shipping Transport Cargo Ship

In the First Tier Tribunal case of Grange Road Car Sales one of the main issues was the evidence required to satisfy HMRC that goods have actually left the UK (and, as exports, be zero rated). If a business cannot satisfy HMRC then the sales must be standard rated.  There are different levels of evidence required for different types of export, and this case is a handy reminder of the importance of having the correct documentation. I have briefly set out below the different requirements and would strongly advise that any business that exports, regularly or occasionally, to keep this situation under constant review. It is an area which is easy for HMRC to “pick off” transactions and to be “unsatisfied”…

The case

In this case the supplier of cars was based in Northern Ireland and purportedly exported cars to the Republic of Ireland. The purchasers were said to drive the cars over the land boundary.  In brief, the appeal was thrown out because both the evidence given in court and the documentation provided appears to have been woefully lacking; which is putting it politely. The case makes entertaining reading (if reading about VAT cases is your thing!). However, it does raise a serious point about exports.

An overview of export requirements

These requirements for exports are set out in Public Notice 703 (although in this case, as the supply was said to be intra-EU, the rules are set out in Public Notice 725). Not only are the requirements prescribed in detail, but they have the force of law (unlike a lot of HMRC’s published Notices).  Unless these conditions are met, it is not possible to treat an export as zero rated, even if a business knows that the goods have physically left the UK.

Proof of export

The section of the Notice covering evidence is mainly set out in paragraph 6.

Official evidence

Official evidence is produced by Customs systems, for example Goods Departed Messages (GDM) generated by NES.

Commercial transport evidence

This describes the physical movement of the goods, for example:

  • Authenticated sea-waybills
  • Authenticated air-waybills
  • PIM/PIEX International consignment notes
  • Master air-waybills or bills of lading
  • Certificates of shipment containing the full details of the consignment and how it left the EC, or
  • International Consignment Note/Lettre de Voiture International (CMR) fully completed by the consignor, the haulier and the receiving consignee, or Freight Transport Association own account transport documents fully completed and signed by the receiving customer

Photocopy certificates of shipment are not normally acceptable as evidence of export, nor are photocopy bills of lading, sea-waybills or air-waybills (unless authenticated by the shipping or airline).

Supplementary evidence

You are likely to hold, within your accounting system some, or all, of the following:

  • customer’s order
  • sales contract
  • inter-company correspondence
  • copy of export sales invoice
  • advice note
  • consignment note
  • packing list
  • insurance and freight charges documentation
  • evidence of payment, and/or
  • evidence of the receipt of the goods abroad.

You must hold sufficient evidence to prove that a transaction has taken place, though it will probably not be necessary for you to hold all of the items listed.

What must be shown on export evidence?

  • The evidence you obtain as proof of export, whether official or commercial, or supporting must clearly identify:
  • the supplier
  • the consignor (where different from the supplier)
  • the customer
  • the goods
  • an accurate value
  • the export destination, and
  • the mode of transport and route of the export movement

Vague descriptions of goods, quantities or values are not acceptable. An accurate value, for example; £50,000 must be shown and not excluded or replaced by a lower or higher amount.

How long must I retain export documentation?

To substantiate zero-rating a transaction you must make sure that the proof of export is:

  • kept for six years, and
  • made readily available to any visiting VAT Officer to substantiate the zero-rating of your exports

What happens if I do not hold the correct export evidence?

If you do not hold the correct export evidence, within the appropriate time limits, then the goods supplied become subject to VAT at the appropriate UK rate.

Additional, or different, evidence is required in the following cases:

  • The supply is to a recipient in the EU
  • Where the supplier does not arrange shipment of the goods
  • Where an overseas customer arranges his own export
  • Merchandise in baggage (MIB)
  • Groupage or consolidation transactions
  • Postal exports
  • Exports by courier and fast parcel services
  • Exports by rail
  • Exports through packers
  • Exports through auctioneers
  • Exports from Customs, Excise and/or Fiscal warehouses
  • Supplies to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Exports to the Channel Islands

This list is not exhaustive.


As may be seen, there is a degree of complexity here, and curiously, just waving a car off to a different country does not create, in itself, a zero rated export.

We are able to review a business’ export procedures to ensure that, as far as possible, HMRC is satisfied that goods have left the UK and that the correct documentation is held to evidence this.

Please contact us if this service is of interest.

Budget 2017 – VAT

By   March 8, 2017

budgetbox_1107228c (2)In today’s budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the following announcements on VAT:

VAT Registration

The annual VAT registration limit has been increased from £83,000 to £85,000 in line with inflation.

The deregistration limit has been increased from £81,000 to £83,000.

Registration in respect of acquisitions from other Member States has also been increased to £85,000.

Notes:  The UK’s VAT registration threshold is the highest in the EU. Businesses trading below the threshold can choose to register voluntarily. This may be appropriate in order to recover input tax on purchases (where the addition of VAT on sales would not create issues).

It is understood that the increase in the threshold will prevent around 4,000 businesses from having to register for VAT by the end of the 2017 to 2018 financial year.

VAT: ‘Split Payment’ model

It was announced that: Some overseas traders avoid paying UK VAT, undercutting online and high street retailers and abusing the trust of UK consumers who purchase goods via online marketplaces. Building on the measures introduced in Budget 2016, the government will shortly publish a call for evidence on the case for a new VAT collection mechanism for online sales. This would harness technology to allow VAT to be extracted directly by the Exchequer from online transactions at the point of purchase. This is often referred to as a ‘Split Payment’ model. This is the next step in tackling the non-payment of VAT by some overseas traders selling goods online to UK consumers”.

Use and enjoyment provisions for business to consumer mobile phone services

The government will remove the VAT use and enjoyment provision for mobile phone services provided to consumers. The measure will bring those services used outside the EU within the scope of the tax. It will also ensure mobile phone companies can’t use the inconsistency to avoid UK VAT. This will bring UK VAT rules in line with the internationally agreed approach

Making Tax Digital for Business 

And that, in a nutshell, is all Philip Hammond had to say directly on VAT.  However, via the Making Tax Digital for Business (MTDfB) Policy Paper, it was announced that businesses, self-employed people and landlords will be required to start using the new digital service from:

  • April 2018 if they have profits chargeable to Income Tax and pay Class 4 National NICs and their turnovers are in excess of the VAT threshold
  • April 2019 if they have profits chargeable to Income Tax and pay Class 4 NICs and their turnovers are below the VAT threshold
  • April 2019 if they are registered for and pay VAT
  • from April 2020 if they pay Corporation Tax

Businesses, self-employed people and landlords with turnovers under £10,000 are exempt from these requirements.

It was further announced that a one year deferral from the mandating of MTDfB for unincorporated businesses and landlords with turnovers below the VAT threshold. This means that only those businesses with turnovers in excess of the VAT threshold with profits chargeable to Income Tax and that pay Class 4 NICs will be required to start using the new digital service from April 2018.

I suppose that we should be grateful that there were not too many changes to VAT announced (I’m sure there will be many more as a result of Brexit…….).


Office of Tax Simplification reports on VAT

By   March 6, 2017

Government_Offices_Great_George_Street (2)The Office of Tax Simplification has recently published its interim report on VAT simplification.

Full details here

The main areas covered are:

  • The UK’s high VAT registration threshold
  • Incidental exempt supplies
  • Complexity of multiple rates
  • Option to Tax and Capital Goods Scheme
  • Treatment of VAT overpayments
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (details of ADR here)
  • Non-Statutory clearances by HMRC
  • Special schemes eg; Flat rate Scheme and TOMS
  • Penalties

Please contact us should you have any queries on any of the issues covered by the report.

VAT Planning – The Four “A”s

By   March 6, 2017

chess move (2)To a degree, VAT planning may be considered as something of an abstract concept.  It may be straightforward, or very complex, but what does all successful VAT planning have in common?  What process should be applied in order to get the right solution and to ensure that nothing is missed?   Well this is my technique and it helps me to focus on what is necessary:

The planning process may be broken down into four distinct elements:

Planning process – The four As

  • Ascertainment
  • Analysis
  • Alternatives
  • Action

One must initially obtain all relevant information and consider the appropriate legislation, case law and HMRC documents etc –


In my experience, the most difficult part of this is obtaining all of the relevant information.  It is not always clear if you have received everything available – so it is often difficult to establish what is relevant and what is not.  The skill is asking the right questions of course.  Any competent VAT adviser should be able to “get the answer” if (s)he has the full picture.

Then one must analyse the information –


Whether it is reading contracts closely, considering EC legislation, reviewing audit trails, searching case law, looking at documentation or carrying out calculations a full analysis is vital in the process of delivering accurate, useful and relevant advice.

The next step is to use the analysis to construct some various alternatives on how to proceed –


The most appropriate solution may present itself immediately, or various structures may need to be considered in detail in order to find some workable alternatives.  It is important not to miss anything at this point and to communicate properly with one’s client.  Consideration is required of a client’s attitude to, inter alia; complexity, risk, time invested and tax in general in order to properly tailor VAT advice.

Finally, consideration is given to the alternatives and a decision made on what action to take –


This is another point at which good communication with one’s client is important.  The client needs to understand the technicalities, the risks, the impact on business, the resources required etc in order to make an informed decision.  A good adviser will also be aware of the appropriate level of assistance required with implementation. I also find it helps if the worst case scenario is explained in each alternative and the level of resistance from HMRC one is likely to encounter.  I also always bear in mind that most people do not “speak VAT jargon”, spend their waking hours studying indirect tax legislation or reviewing VAT cases, so clear and straightforward English is needed! (Also, I find my diagrams and flowcharts created at meetings a help, even if just to amuse clients with my artistic skills!)