Monthly Archives: April 2017

VAT evasion by non-EU online sellers

By   April 26, 2017

Investigation by The National Audit Office (NAO) into overseas sellers failing to charge VAT on online sales.

The NAO have investigated concerns that online sellers outside the EU are avoiding charging VAT. Full report here

The NAO has published the findings from its investigation into the concern that online sellers based outside the EU are not charging VAT on goods located in the UK when sold to UK customers. Online sales accounted for 14.5% of all UK retail sales in 2016, just over half of these were non-store sales, mainly through online marketplaces.

VAT rules require that all traders based outside the EU selling goods online to customers in the UK should charge VAT if their goods are already in the UK at the point of sale. In these cases, sellers should pay import VAT and customs duties when the goods are imported into the UK and charge their customers VAT on the final selling price. The sellers should also be registered with HMRC and are required to submit regular VAT returns.

Some of the key findings of the investigation are as follows:

HMRC estimates that online VAT fraud and error cost between £1 billion and £1.5 billion in lost tax revenue in 2015-16 but this estimate is subject to a high level of uncertainty. This estimate represents between 8% and 12% of the total VAT gap (The VAT gap is the difference between the amount of VAT that should, in theory, be collected by HMRC, against what is actually collected) of £12.2 billion in 2015-16. UK trader groups believe the problem is widespread, and that some of the biggest online sellers of particular products are not charging VAT. These estimates exclude wider impacts of this problem such as the distortion of the competitive market landscape.

HMRC recognised online VAT fraud and error as a priority in 2014, although the potential risk from online trading generally was raised before this. In 2013 the NAO reported that HMRC had not yet produced a comprehensive plan to react to the emerging threat to the VAT system posed by online trading. The report found HMRC had developed tools to identify internet-based traders and launched campaigns to encourage compliance but had shown less urgency in developing its operational response. Trader groups claim that online VAT fraud has been a problem as early as 2009, which has got significantly worse in the past five years. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute shares this view. Based on the emergence of the fulfilment house (a warehouse where goods can be stored before delivery to the customer) model, HMRC recognised online VAT fraud and error as one of its key risks in 2014 and began to increase resources in this area in 2015.

HMRC’s assessment is that online VAT losses are due to a range of non-compliant behaviours, but has not yet been able to assess how much is due to lack of awareness, error or deliberate fraud. Amazon and eBay consider that lack of awareness of the VAT rules is a major element of the problem. Amazon and eBay have focused on educating overseas sellers and providing tools to assist with VAT reporting and compliance. HMRC’s strategic threat assessment, carried out in 2014, concluded it was highly likely that both organised criminal groups based in the UK and overseas sellers in China were using fulfilment houses to facilitate the transit of undervalued or misclassified goods, or both, from China to the UK for sale online.

HMRC introduced new legal powers to tackle online VAT fraud and error in September 2016. The new joint and several liability power gives HMRC a new way to tackle suspected non-compliance, and is the first time any country has introduced such a power for this purpose. The new powers include making online marketplaces potentially jointly and severally liable for non-payment of VAT when HMRC has informed them of an issue with a seller, and they do not subsequently take appropriate action.


Online VAT fraud and error causes substantial losses to the UK Exchequer and undermines the competitiveness of UK businesses. Compliance with the VAT rules is a legal requirement. Not knowing about the rules does not excuse non-compliance. The UK trader groups who raised the issue report having experienced the impact of this problem through progressively fewer sales. They consider HMRC has been slow in reacting to the emerging problem of online VAT fraud and error and that there do not seem to be penalties of sufficient severity to act as a substantial deterrent.

It is too soon to conclude on the effectiveness and impact of HMRC’s new powers and whether the resources devoted by HMRC to using them match the scale of the problem. We recognise that HMRC must consider effort and efficiency in collecting VAT but its enforcement approach to online trade appears likely to continue the existing unfair advantage as perceived by UK trader groups. This is contrary to HMRC’s policy of encouraging voluntary compliance and it does not take account of the powerful effect that HMRC’s enforcement approach has on the operation of the online market as a whole. We intend to return to this subject in the future.

Further to the above, this article suggests that HMRC should have acted even earlier.

VAT Implications of Transfer Pricing – Valuation

By   April 24, 2017

The EC has recently published a paper on the possible VAT implications of Transfer Pricing (TP) here

This Working Paper considers when TP adjustments may affect the application of VAT. The main conflict is highlighted as the difference between how sales are valued. For TP purposes value is determined via arm’s length (open market value) versus the subjective value, ie; the price actually paid, for VAT purposes.

Transfer Pricing

The arm’s length principle is the international transfer pricing standard that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries have agreed, and which should be used for tax purposes by Multinational Enterprise Group (“MNE group”) and tax administrations, including the price, match comparable market conditions and that profits are fairly divided between the jurisdictions in which MNE operates.

According to the OECD TP Guidelines, by seeking to adjust profits by reference to the conditions which would have been obtained between independent enterprises for comparable transactions and under comparable circumstances, ie; in “comparable uncontrolled transactions” the arm’s length principle treats the members of an MNE group as entities operating separately rather than as inseparable parts of a single unified business. Because the separate entity approach treats the members of an MNE group as if they were independent entities, attention is focused on the nature of the transactions between those members and on whether the conditions thereof differ from those that would be obtained in comparable uncontrolled transactions.


It is not generally required for VAT purposes that the consideration which must be present in order for a transaction to be qualified as taxable, has to reflect the market value of the goods or services supplied. In fact, as to the concept of “consideration”, it is settled case law of the CJEU that the taxable amount for the supply of goods or services is represented by the consideration actually received for them.

I shan’t rehearse the details here as they are clearly set out in the paper linked to above.

However, it is an important area of tax and I strongly recommend reading the Working Paper for any business or adviser involved in international supplies. It is also an interesting read for students of the tax technical side of such supplies.

We have a strong global structure of skilled advisers which are able to assist if you have any queries.

VAT Update on Associated Newspapers case – treatment of vouchers

By   April 24, 2017

Two months ago the Court of Appeal mainly ruled in favour of Associated Newspapers on the treatment of vouchers.  Commentary and links here

The decision consequently cast doubt on HMRC’s published guidance on the VAT treatment of vouchers.

HMRC have announced that they are seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.  Although this further delays definitive rules on vouchers, it is hoped that if it goes to the Supreme Court we will get some sort of closure on this matter.

VAT EORI – What is it? Do I need one?

By   April 19, 2017

What is an EORI?

EORI is an acronym for Economic Operator Registration & Identification.

An EORI number is assigned to importers and exporters by HMRC, and is used in the process of customs entry declarations and customs clearance for both import and export shipments travelling to or from the EU and countries outside the EU.

What is the EORI number for?

An EORI number is stored both nationally and on a central EU EORI database. The information it provides is used by customs authorities to exchange information, and to share information with government departments and agencies. It is used for statistical and security purposes.

Who needs an EORI number?

You will require an EORI number if you are planning to import or export goods with countries outside the EU.  Also, you may need an EORI number to trade with these countries in Europe: Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Iceland, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Switzerland.

Format of the EORI number

VAT registered companies will see the EORI as an extension of their VAT number. Your VAT nine digit VAT number will be prefixed with “GB” and suffixed with “000”.

How do I apply for an EORI Number?

Non VAT registered companies can apply using this link – FORM C220

VAT registered companies can apply using this link – FORM C220A

Once completed, your form should be emailed to:

How long will my EORI application take?

EORI applications take up to three working days to process.

Please contact us if you have any issues with importing or exporting.

VAT legislation – relationship between EU and UK law. A guide

By   April 10, 2017

How does the UK system fit with EU legislation?

Further to my recent article on the legal impact of The Great Repeal Bill and Article 50 here I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and look at the background. We now know that on the day the UK leaves the EU the following rules will still apply and that there will be no immediate changes to the status quo. After Brexit there is likely to be a review of the VAT position, but we expect any changes to the system to be subtle at first with any significant changes (if any) being made over a much longer period.

So where are we now?

As most people will know, UK domestic VAT law is derived from EU legislation, but what is the actual relationship?

It is important to understand how both elements of legislation work in cases of dispute with HMRC as it often provides additional ammunition.


Most Member States already had a system of VAT before joining the EU but for some countries VAT had to be introduced together with membership of the EU.

When the UK joined the EU in 1972 it replaced two taxes; purchase tax and selective employment tax with VAT.

In 1977, the Council of the European Communities sought to harmonise the national VAT systems of its Member States by issuing the Sixth Directive to provide a uniform basis of assessment and replacing the Second Directive promulgated in 1967.

Council Directive 2006/112/EC (the VAT Directive) sets out the infrastructure for a common VAT system which each Member State is required to implement by means of its own domestic legislation. This important Directive codifies into one piece of legislation all the amendments to the original Sixth Directive, thus clarifying EU VAT legislation currently in force.


The aim of the VAT Directive is to harmonise the indirect tax within the EU, and it specifies that VAT rates must be within a certain range. The basic aims are:

  • Harmonisation of VAT law
  • Harmonisation of content and layout of the VAT declaration
  • Regulation of; accounting, providing a common legal accounting framework
  • Common framework for detailed description of invoices and receipts
  • Regulation of accounts payable
  • Regulation of accounts receivable
  • Standard definition of national accountancy and administrative terms

EU Statements

There are four types of EU statements:

  • Regulations – Are binding in their entirety and have general effect to all EU Member States. They are directly applicable in the UK legal system
  • Directives – Are binding as to result and their general effect is specific to named EU countries. The form and methods of compliance are left to the addressees.
  • Decisions – Are binding in their entirety and are specific to an EU country, commercial enterprise or private individual.
  • Recommendations and Opinions – Are not binding and are directed to specific subjects on which the Council’s or Commission’s advice has been sought.

EU Legislation as part of UK Legislation

EU law is made effective for UK legislation via European Communities Act 1972 section 2. The effects of EU law as regards UK VAT legislation is summarised as follows.

Direct effect

The Court of Justice has held “wherever the provisions of a directive appear … to be unconditional and sufficiently precise, those provisions may … be relied upon as against any national provision which is incompatible with the directive insofar as the provisions define rights which individuals are able to assert against the state” – Becker.  Also, in UFD Ltd it was stated that “in all appeals involving issues of liability, the Tribunal should consider the relevant provisions of the Council directives to ensure that the provisions of the UK legislation are consistent therewith”.

Primacy of EU Directives over UK legislation

A UK court which is to apply provisions of EU law is under a duty to give full effect to those provisions, if necessary refusing of its own motion to apply any conflicting provision of national legislation.

Interpretation of UK law

If UK VAT legislation is unclear or ambiguous, Tribunals are “entitled to have regard to the provisions of the relevant EU Directive in order to assist in resolving any ambiguity in the construction of the provisions under consideration’ (English-Speaking Union of the Commonwealth).

Legal principles

In implementing the common VAT structure, domestic legislation is required to recognise certain legal principles.

Examples of some of these are the principle of:

  • Equality of citizens
  • Subsidiarity and proportionality
  • Non-discrimination on grounds of nationality
  • Fiscal neutrality
  • Legal certainty and the protection of legitimate expectations.

Practical application for most taxpayers

Practically, a result of the above is that taxpayers are regularly able to recover VAT (plus interest) paid to HMRC in error in cases where the UK domestic legislation has not implemented EU law correctly.  However, HMRC has no right to recovery where VAT has been under-collected as a result of inappropriate implementation of the EU legislation.

VAT Legal impact of The Great Repeal Bill and Article 50

By   April 3, 2017

Changes to VAT on the day the UK leaves the EU – details of new White Paper

There has been significant confusion and differing views over how the UK would treat existing CJEU case law and its impact on the UK legislation when the UK leaves the EU.

Welcome certainty and clarity has been provided by the publication of a White Paper in respect The Great Repeal Bill (GRB).  Full details of the GRB here


The European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) gives effect in UK law to the EU treaties. It incorporates EU law into the UK domestic legal order and provides for the supremacy of EU law. It also requires UK courts to follow the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Some EU law applies directly without the need for specific domestic implementing legislation, while other parts of EU law need to be implemented in the UK through domestic legislation. As explained in the White Paper, domestic legislation other than the ECA also gives effect to some of the UK’s obligations under EU law. The government states that “…it is important to repeal the ECA to ensure there is maximum clarity as to the law that applies in the UK, and to reflect the fact that following the UK’s exit from the EU it will be UK law, not EU law, that is supreme.” The GRB will repeal the ECA on the day we leave the EU.


The main point stressed in the White Paper is that “The same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before. It will then be for democratically elected representatives in the UK to decide on any changes to that law, after full scrutiny and proper debate” and “This Bill will, wherever practical and appropriate, convert EU law into UK law from the day we leave so that we can make the right decisions in the national interest at a time that we choose.”

 The intention is that the GRB will do three things:

  • It will repeal the ECA and return power to UK institutions.
  • The Bill will convert EU law as it stands at the moment of exit into UK law before we leave the EU. This allows businesses to continue operating knowing the rules have not changed significantly overnight, and provides fairness to individuals, whose rights and obligations will not be subject to sudden change. It also ensures that it will be up to the UK Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law (once it has been brought into UK law) at the appropriate time once we have left the EU.
  • The Bill will create powers to make secondary legislation. This will enable corrections to be made to the laws that would otherwise no longer operate appropriately once we have left the EU, so that our legal system continues to function correctly outside the EU, and will also enable domestic law once we have left the EU to reflect the content of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50.

This means that case law precedent from the CJEU will continue to apply (for a time at least). Any uncertainties/disagreements over the meaning of UK law after the UK leaves the EC that has been derived from EU cases will be decided by reference to the CJEU case law as it exists on the day the UK leaves. As a consequence, the GRB is likely to give CJEU case law similar precedent status to the UK Supreme Court.  The result is that Tribunals (and other court cases) will be heard in a similar way as they are now and both sides may continue to rely on case law as they have up to this point.  Any changes to the VAT legislation, if any, may then be made at a more leisurely pace while providing certainty while this is done.


There will also be changes to the current UK Customs regime as a consequence of the UK leaving the Single Market. The Customs Declaration Services (CDS) programme is intended to replace the existing system for handling import and export freight (CHIEF) from January 2019. Now that the Government has made a decision to leave the EU customs union, there is concern that this project is in place on time. A letter from the Treasury Select Committee states that “even modest delays, there is potential for major disruption to trade and economic activity”.

There are still a lot of uncertainties which will not be dealt with until we know the terms of the UK leaving and we will try to report these as soon as we have any information. Please subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter to keep up to date on this, and other VAT developments. Simply email us at