Monthly Archives: September 2017

Recovering VAT on Staff Expenses

By   September 29, 2017

VAT on Staff Expenses – what is claimable?

Although the VAT rules normally prevent a business reclaiming input tax on supplies that are not made directly to it, there are certain circumstances when the rules are relaxed. Although rather a dry and basic area, experience insists that it creates many issues at inspections and is “low hanging fruit” for which HMRC may levy penalties. Some business decide not to recover VAT on such costs to avoid problems, but certain claims are permissible and may be worth significant sums if they have a number of employees.

 Subsistence Expenses

For instance, the VAT element of subsistence expenses paid to your employees may be treated as input tax. In order to qualify for this concession, employees must be reimbursed for their actual expenditure and not merely receive round sum allowances. These costs include hotels and meals.

VAT invoices (which may be made out to the employee) must also be obtained. The rule of thumb is that the employee must be more than five miles away from their place of employment and spend over five hours there (the so-called 5 mile/5 hour rule). A business cannot reclaim input tax if it pays an employees a flat rate for expenses.

Reimbursement for Road Fuel

The VAT legislation permits a business to treat as its own supply road fuel which is purchased by a non-taxable person whom it then pay for the actual cost of the fuel (usually through an expenses claim). This would therefore allow a business to recover input tax when it reimburses its employees for the cost of road fuel used in carrying out their employment duties.

A business is able to reclaim all the input tax on fuel if a vehicle is used only for business. There are three ways of claiming VAT if a business uses a vehicle for both business and private purposes.

  • reclaim all the VAT and pay the fuel scale charge – HMRC details here
  • only reclaim the VAT on fuel you use for business trips – this requires the retention of detailed mileage records
  • choose not to reclaim any VAT eg; if your business mileage is so low that the fuel scale charge would be higher than the VAT you can reclaim

If a business chooses not to reclaim VAT on fuel for one vehicle it cannot reclaim VAT on any fuel for vehicles used in the business.

Mileage Allowances

The legislation also enables you to reclaim the VAT element (or a reasonable approximation) of mileage allowances paid to employees.

Business entertainment

For details of this complex area please see here

Goods

Certain goods which are to be used in a business, eg; office supplies, the business may reclaim the input tax on purchases made by employees or directors. In all cases you’ll need a VAT invoice. Details required on a VAT invoice here

Mobile telephones

An element of mobile phone costs may be recovered. The VAT on the business use of the phone may be recovered, eg; if half of the mobile phone calls are private 50% of the VAT on the purchase price and the service plan can be recovered.

Work from home

If a person works from home an element of the costs may be recovered. As an example: if an office takes up 20% of the floor space in a house. A business may reclaim 20% of the VAT on utility bills.

Apportionment

A business must keep all records to support a claim and show how it arrived at the business proportion of a purchase of goods or services and it must also have valid VAT invoices in all cases.

VAT due on property search fees? Whether they are disbursements

By   September 25, 2017

Latest from the courts – Brabners LLP

In the First Tier Tribunal case of Brabners LLP (Brabners) the issue was whether an external search agency used by the appellant correctly treated its supplies as VAT free, and if this was the case, whether the VAT free treatment continued to the appellant’s clients by way of a disbursement.

This is an interesting case and may create historic difficulties for conveyancing solicitors.

Background

Brabners is a law firm with a real estate department. It offers conveyancing services, both to buyers and sellers, in relation to proposed property transactions, for both commercial and residential property. In order to fulfil certain legal requirements, it used an external third party entity to obtain online property searches. The Appellant stated that it uses the online system for the majority of its searches (as opposed to a postal search carried out by employees of a Local authority, or a personal search at the Local Authority’s premises). The online search is not carried out by the Appellant, but rather, a specialist online search agency (‘Searchflow’) engaged by Brabners. Searchflow obtained the required property searches from the Local Authority’s digitised or dematerialised files and registers, and passed those results back to Brabners.

Searchflow invoiced the appellant for the cost of obtaining access to documents without the addition of VAT. Brabners treated this as a disbursement and invoiced its clients for the same amount without VAT.

The issues were:

  • Should the supply by the search agency be subject to output tax?
  • Was there a Single or multiple supply?
  • Whether the charge to the end user of the services should be treated as a disbursement in respect of the search element
  • Which party consumed Searchflow’s services? (Brabners, or Brabners’ clients)

Note: the disbursement position is only (practically) relevant in this case if it was decided that the search fee was VAT free. Local Authorities now (from March 2017) charge VAT for searches, so the impact is only likely to impact on past situations.

Contentions 

The main thrust of the Brabners’ argument is that the firm was requested, or expressly authorised, to obtain a search on the client’s behalf. Consequently, this meant that the firm was simply acting as the client’s agent, and the report belongs to the client. Brabners, argued that the search fees qualified as a disbursement for the purposes of VAT, and were not part of the otherwise taxable supply. It also argued that this separate treatment is intelligible and sensible. HMRC formed the view that the relevant payments cannot be treated as a disbursement as all the tests to do so were not met.  For a guide to disbursements and the relevant tests please see here

Decision

The judge decided that the relevant expenses paid to Searchflow had been incurred by the appellant “in the course of making its own supply of services to” (its client) “and as part of the whole of the services rendered by it to” (its client). Therefore Brabners had consumed the service such that it could not be a disbursement. This point in this case proves academic as it was also, unsurprisingly, decided that Searchflow’s services were standard rated, so even if it were a disbursement, the VAT would still be payable by the appellant’s client.

 Consequences

All firms which carry out conveyancing should review the VAT treatment of searches. If they have erroneously treated similar transactions as disbursements in the past, this is likely to require correction. Clearly, HMRC will be alive to this decision and it is anticipated that legal firms will be the subject of close inspection.

This case may also mean that third party search entities may be issuing retrospective VAT invoices or work which was previously treated as VAT free. This needs to be recognised and arrangements in place to recover any input tax incurred.

We are able to assist conveyancing firms with a review of the VAT position in light of this case.

VAT: Output tax on credits? A Tax point case

By   September 18, 2017

Latest from the courts

In the Scottish Court of Session case of Findmypast Limited the issue was whether the sale of credits represented a taxable supply, the tax point of which was when payment was received.

Background

Findmypast carries on a business of providing access to genealogical and ancestry websites which it owns or for which it holds a licence. If a customer wishes to view or download most of the records on the website, they will be required to make a payment. This may be done by taking out a subscription for a fixed period, which confers unlimited use of the records during that period. Alternatively, the customer may use a system known as Pay As You Go. This involves the payment of a lump sum in return for which the customer receives a number of “credits”. The credits may be used to view records on the website, and each time a record is viewed some of the credits are used up. The credits are only valid for a fixed period, but unused credits may be revived if the customer purchases further credits within two years; otherwise they are irrevocably lost.

Technical

Findmypast accounted for output tax on the price of the credits at the time when they were sold.  As a consequence, VAT was paid, not only on credits which were used, but also on credits that were not redeemed (The tax point therefore similar to the current rules on the sale of single use face value vouchers. Rules here).

The taxpayer claimed repayment of the VAT accounted for on the sale of unredeemed vouchers during a period which ran up to May 2012 when the legislation was changed.

The question was whether output tax should have been accounted for at the time when the vouchers were sold or at the time the vouchers were redeemed. If the tax point was the date of redemption, then the claim would be valid. The court identified the following issues:

  • What is the nature of the supply made by the taxpayer to customers?
    • Was it was the supply of genealogical records selected by the customer and viewed or downloaded by them?
    • Or was the supply a package of rights and services, which conferred a right to search the records and download and print items from the taxpayer’s websites?

If the former is accurate, the supply only takes place if and when a particular record is viewed or downloaded.  If the latter, the supply includes a general right to search which is exercisable as soon as the credits are purchased, with the result that the supply takes place at that point.

A subtle distinction, but one which has an obviously big VAT impact.

Decision

The Court decided that where credits were not redeemed, the taxpayer is entitled to be repaid the output tax previously declared as no tax point was created. In the Court’s view, Findmypast was making the relevant documents available in return for payments received. HMRC’s contention that there was a complex, multiple supply of the facility to find and access genealogical documents such that payment created a tax point was dismissed. The court further found that the relevant payments did not qualify as prepayments (deposits) because it was not known at the time of purchase whether the credits would be redeemed (many were not) or indeed at what time they would be redeemed if they were.  It was also decided that the credits were not Face Value Vouchers per VAT Act 1994, Schedule 10A, paragraph 1(1) as they are rather mere credits that permit the customer to view and download particular documents on the taxpayer’s website, through the operation of the taxpayer’s accounting system.  And that they are not purchased for their own sake but as a means to view or download documents.

Commentary

Readers of my past articles will have identified that multiple/single supplies and tax points create have been hot topics recently, and this is the latest chapter in the story.

This case highlights that any payments received by a business must be analysed closely and the actual nature of them determined according to the legislation and case law. Not all payments received create a tax point and

Some will not represent consideration such that output tax is due. Careful consideration of the tax point rules is necessary.  Not only can the correct application of the rules aid cashflow, but in certain circumstances (such as set out in this case) it is possible to avoid paying VAT on receipts at all.

VAT – Do as HMRC say…. and if you do… they may still penalise you!

By   September 13, 2017

Can you rely on a VAT ruling received from HMRC when they have been provided with full information in writing?

You would like to think so wouldn’t you? And in the past, you have been able to.

However, the long standing protection from assessments for deemed underdeclared VAT as a result of incorrect advice or actions by HMRC has been withdrawn. This was commonly known as “Sheldon Statement” protection. HMRC now state that there are some circumstances in which their primary duty is to collect tax according to the statute and it may mean that they can no longer be bound by advice they have given.  Despite all the publicity of their National Help Line and Advice Centre, plus the clearance procedures introduced to assist taxpayers with their obligations, HMRC can still renege on their advice! Even if you are fortunate enough to actually get a decision from HMRC (which is increasingly difficult and frustrating) you can’t necessarily rely on it. This is the case even if you have provided full information in writing (as required) and made a comprehensive disclosure of your position.

This makes it even more important to avoid errors and the increased risk of VAT penalties and interest. Details of the penalty regime here

This leaves the question as to whom businesses can rely on for accurate, cost effective VAT saving advice and guidance on getting VAT right?  The answer, clearly, is to contact their friendly local VAT consultant…

The Default Surcharge for late VAT payments

By   September 5, 2017

A Default Surcharge is a civil penalty issued by HMRC to “encourage” businesses to submit their VAT returns and pay the tax due on time.

VAT registered businesses are required by law to submit their return and make the relevant payment of the VAT by the due date.

A default occurs if HMRC has not received your return and all the VAT due by the due date. The relevant date is the date that cleared funds reach HMRC’s bank account. If the due date is not a working day, payment must be received on the last preceding working day.

Payments on Account (POA)

If a business is required to make POA it must pay them and the balance due with the VAT Return by electronic transfer direct to HMRC’s bank account. The due dates for POA are the last working day of the second and third month of every quarterly accounting period. The due date for the balancing payment is the date shown on the business’ VAT Return. It is important to ensure that payments are cleared to HMRC’s bank by these dates or there will be a default.

Consequence of default

A business will receive a warning after the first default ‐ the Surcharge Liability Notice (SLN). Do not ignore this notice. If you fail to pay the VAT due on the due date within the next five quarters, the surcharge will be 2% of the outstanding tax. The surcharge increases to 5% for the next default, and then by 5% increments to a maximum of 15%.  Each default, whether it is late submission of the return or late payment, extends the surcharge liability period, but only late payment incurs a surcharge.

If you can’t pay the VAT you owe by the due date or are having difficulties, contact the Business Payment Support Service immediately.

Special arrangements for small businesses

There are special arrangements if a business’ taxable turnover is £150,000 or less to help if there are short term difficulties paying VAT on time. HMRC send a letter offering help and support rather than a Surcharge Liability Notice the first time there is a default. This aims to assist with any short-term difficulties before a business formally enters the Default Surcharge system. If the business defaults again within the following 12 months a Surcharge Liability Notice will be issued.

Minimum surcharges

There is a minimum of £30 for surcharges calculated at the 10% or 15% rates. There will not be a surcharge at the 2% and 5% rates if it is calculated it to be less than £400. However, a Surcharge Liability Notice Extension extending the surcharge period will be issued and the rate of surcharge if you default again within the surcharge period will be increased.

Circumstances when HMRC will not levy a surcharge

There’s no liability to surcharge if a business:

  • submits a nil or repayment return late
  • pays the VAT due on time but submit your return late

HMRC will not issue a surcharge in these circumstances because there is no late payment involved. If a business had defaulted previously HMRC will issue a Surcharge Liability Notice Extension extending the surcharge period because the return is late, but they will not increase the rate of surcharge.

Time limit

A business’ liability to surcharge will expire if a business submits all of its returns and payments for tax periods ending on or before the end of the surcharge liability period on time.

Reasonable excuse

If a business has a reasonable excuse for failing to pay on time, and it remedies this failure without unreasonable delay after the excuse ends, it will not be liable to a surcharge.

There’s no statutory definition of reasonable excuse and it will depend on the particular circumstances of a case. A reasonable excuse is something that prevented the business meeting a tax obligation on time which it took reasonable care to meet. The decision on whether a reasonable excuse exists depends upon the particular circumstances in which the failure occurred. There is a great deal of case law on this particular issue. Please contact us should there be doubt about a reasonable excuse.

Disagreement over a surcharge

If you disagree with a decision that you are liable to surcharge or how the amount of surcharge has been calculated, it is possible to:

  • ask HMRC to review your case
  • have your case heard by the Tax Tribunal

If you ask for a review of a case, a business will be required to write to HMRC within 30 days of the date the Surcharge Liability Notice Extension was sent. The letter should give the reasons why you disagree with the decision.

Examples when a review may be appropriate are if a business considers that:

  • it has a reasonable excuse for the default
  • HMRC applied the wrong rate of surcharge
  • HMRC used the wrong amount of VAT when calculating the surcharge
  • there are exceptional circumstances which mean the default should be removed

A business will still be able to appeal to the Tribunal if it disagrees with the outcome of the HMRC review.

We are very experienced in dealing with disputes over Default Surcharges, so if you feel that one has been applied unfairly, or wish to explore your rights, please let us know.