Monthly Archives: October 2017

VAT: The ECJ decides that bridge is NOT a sport

By   October 27, 2017

The English Bridge Union Limited (EBU) case

Further to my article on contract (or duplicate) bridge here which covered the Advocate General’s opinion that it could be considered a sport, the Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that it does not qualify as a sport and therefore certain supplies by The EBU are subject to UK VAT.

The court decided that “…the fact that an activity promotes physical and mental health is not, of itself, a sufficient element for it to be concluded that that activity is covered by the concept of ‘sport’ within the meaning of that same provision….

The fact that an activity promoting physical and mental well-being is practised competitively does not lead to a different conclusion. In fact, the Court has ruled that Article 132(1)(m) of Directive 2006/112 does not require, for it to be applicable, that the sporting activity be practised at a particular level, for example, at a professional level, or that the sporting activity at issue be practised in a particular way, namely in a regular or organised manner or in order to participate in sports competitions…

In that respect, it must also be noted that the competitive nature of an activity cannot, per se, be sufficient to establish its classification as a ‘sport’, failing any not negligible physical element.”

As my aged father has always said; it can only be sport if the players wear shorts and sweat…

He may not have been far off you know. I still have difficulty considering pub games as sport, but I am sure there will be many who think that darts and pool are indeed sport.  It is also interesting that, inter alia, HMRC consider; baton twirling, hovering (not “hoovering as I first read it) octopush, dragon boat racing and sombo as sport.

HMRC VAT information “out of date and flawed”

By   October 23, 2017

In a recent report published by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, HMRC’s estimate of VAT lost in cases of online fraud and error is “out of date and flawed”. The report also recommends that HMRC get tougher with fraudsters and that it should work closer with online marketplaces. Additionally, it also states that HMRC should carry out an assessment of the fulfilment house industry.

This failure by HMRC means that honest businesses suffer as a result of fraudulent and ignorant set ups who can sell goods VAT free. These are usually overseas entities which have no intention of; registering for VAT, charging VAT in addition to the price of goods, and paying over this VAT to the authorities. Let us hope that HMRC do indeed use the significant powers it has in dealing with this type of unwanted activity.

Due Diligence Scheme

Note: There is a HMRC fulfilment house Due Diligence Scheme for overseas sellers being introduced in 2018. In the 2016 budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that HMRC would be given more powers to deal with overseas sellers selling into the UK via marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon who do not pay UK VAT.

As HMRC states in VAT Notes 2017 Issue 1 published 10 May 2017  “More and more UK retail businesses have a presence online and are having to compete with thousands of overseas online sellers, some of which are evading VAT. This abuse has grown significantly and now costs the UK taxpayer £1 billion to £1.5 billion a year. HMRC is taking action to protect the thousands of UK businesses from this unfair competition.”

Assistance

If any overseas businesses who sell into the UK and would like advice on the UK VAT requirements – please contact us. We have experience of dealing with the authorities, including negotiation with HMRC on the retrospective VAT position and mitigation of the impact of any penalties and interest.

VAT: Distinction between goods and services. Mercedes Benz Financial Services case

By   October 17, 2017

In the CJEU case of Mercedes Benz Financial Services (MBFS) the issue was whether certain supplies where of goods or services.

Technical Background

Before looking at the case, it is worthwhile considering the difference between goods and services and why the distinction is important. For most transactions the difference is clear, although sometimes (such as in this case) it is not immediately apparent. A starting point is that services are “something other than supplying goods”. Difficulties can arise in areas such as; provision of; information, software and, as MBFS discovered, Hire Purchase (HP)/leasing.

The distinction is important for two main reasons:

  • VAT liability – Goods and services may have different VAT rates applicable
  • Tax point – goods and services have different tax point rules, see here

The difference between HP and Leasing arrangements:

In an HP agreement the intention is usually for the ownership of the goods to pass when the final payment has been made. The transaction therefore relates to a supply of goods. If title to goods does not pass, this is leasing and represents a supply of services.

Case Background

MBFS offered certain contract purchases which were similar to many personal contract purchase deals for vehicles. These featured regular monthly payments with a final balloon payment. In the MBFS arrangements in question a significant difference to “usual” personal contract purchase agreements was that the balloon payment represented over 40% of the price of the car and payment of this fee was entirely optional.

The EU rules set out that there is a supply of goods where “in the normal course of events” ownership will pass at the latest upon payment of the final instalment. Consequently, the focus here was on whether the optional final payment meant that in the normal course of events the ownership of the car would pass to the customer.

Decision

The CJEU decided that the supplies were those of services rather than goods. This was based on the fact that, although the ownership transfer clause is an indicator of the transaction representing a supply of goods, there was a  genuine economic alternative to the option being exercised. The circa 40% of the car price was a significant amount and it did not immediately follow that all customers would make this final payment. It was observed that in a “traditional” HP arrangement making the final payment was the “only economically rational choice”.  This meant that the supply was one of services.

VAT Impact

As this was ruled to be a supply of services, output tax was not due from MBFS at the start of the contract (as would have been the case if the supply had been one of goods). This results in a significant cashflow saving.

Commentary

Any business which provides vehicles via HP or leasing arrangements should review its supplies and contracts to determine whether it can take advantage of this CJEU ruling. We are able to assist in this process.

VAT HMRC Updates

By   October 12, 2017

HMRC has updated some of its guidance.  This includes: VAT manuals (HMRC internal guidance), VAT Notices and VAT Information Sheets and Revenue and Customs Briefs.

Full details here And a brief summary below:

VAT manuals

VAT Land and Property/Construction

VATLP24750 – Supplies between landlords and tenants; provision of finance for the purposes of the option to tax anti-avoidance legislation

VATLP23500 – Guidance on the option to tax anti-avoidance legislation

VCONST15250 and VCONST15610 – Guidance on the differences between care homes and a hospitals

VAT Education

VATEDU53400 – Guidance on “closely related goods” in relation to education services following the case of Brockenhurst College (please see here)

New and revised VAT Notices

702: imports

701/49: finance

700/45: how to correct VAT errors and make adjustments or claims

700/58: treatment of VAT repayment returns and supplements

702/7: import VAT relief for goods supplied onward to another country in the EC

714: zero rating young children’s clothing and footwear

New VAT Information Sheets and Revenue and Customs Briefs

VAT Information Sheets

Revenue and Customs Briefs

Please contact us if any of the above affects you , or you have any queries.

New Customs Bill White Paper – VAT implications

By   October 12, 2017

A new Customs Bill White Paper has been issued.

As a result of the Brexit vote new domestic legislation is due to enter Parliament later this autumn which will provide for most negotiated outcomes, as well as a contingency scenario.

This Bill will be referred to in this paper as the “Customs Bill”. The purpose of the White Paper is to set out the government’s approach to the Bill. It sets out how the current customs, VAT, and excise regimes operate for cross border transactions, why the Bill is necessary, and what the Bill will contain.

Unfortunately, although being “sold” as containing concrete details, unsurprisingly there is nothing particular of substance. I shall refrain from adding any political comments, but just to observe that any process will be confusing, complex, and very unhelpful for businesses.

Good luck everyone…

VAT: Extent of zero rating for a construction by a charity

By   October 9, 2017

Latest from the courts

In the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of The Trustees of Litton & Thorner Community Hall the issue was whether certain construction works were a completion of an initial build or whether they were an extension or an annex to a pre-existing building. And if an annex, whether it was capable of functioning independently from the existing building and whether there is a main access to the annex.

Background

The appellant began construction of a hall in 2008. It was intended that the hall would be available for a school to use and also for it to be available at for village use and other activities, such as by local youth clubs and a scout group. There was no dispute that the original construction was zero rated via VAT Act 1994, Schedule 8, Group 5, item 2  (The supply in the course of the construction of a building designed for a relevant charitable purpose).

A decision was made to install ground source heat pumps to feed the heating system. However the space occupied to accommodate the system meant that there was insufficient storage space in the hall. So at the time of construction, but before planning permission was obtained, it was decided with the builder that a steel joist should be incorporated within the east wall of the hall in order to facilitate the necessary support and access when the envisaged storage facility was added.  The additional planning permission was granted in November 2011, three years after building work commenced. The facility was eventually able to be used when work was completed in 2014. The delay was caused (not surprisingly) by funding issues. It was the VAT treatment of work relating to the addition of the storage area which was the subject of the appeal, with HMRC considering that it was either standard rated work to the building or was a standard rated extension to it.

Technical background

The provisions relevant to the appeal are VAT Act 1994, Schedule 8, Group 5, Notes 16 and 17. It is worthwhile taking a moment to consider these in their entirety:

Note 16

For the purpose of this Group, the construction of a building does not include

(a ) the conversion, reconstruction or alteration of an existing building; or

(b) any enlargement of, or extension to, an existing building except to the extent the enlargement or extension creates an additional dwelling or dwellings; or

(c) subject to Note (17) below, the construction of an annexe to an existing building.

Note 17

Note 16(c) above shall not apply where the whole or a part of an annexe is intended for use solely for a relevant charitable purpose and;

(a) the annexe is capable of functioning independently from the existing building; and

(b) the only access or where there is more than one means of access, the main access to:

(i) the annexe is not via the existing building; and

(ii) the existing building is not via the annexe.

The Appeal

The Trustees appealed on two separate and distinct bases:

(1) That the additional building was the completion of the original building and neither an extension nor an annex to it. It was their case that the temporal disconnect between the two building processes must be seen in the factual context, with particular reference to the decision to put in a lintel to allow the building to be completed when additional monies and planning permission were available. Additionally, alongside this fact was that the appellant was a non-commercial organisation and so things could not progress as expeditiously as they might have done if those things were being undertaken by a commercial organisation.

(2) The second basis is that, in any event, the additional building is zero rated by reference to paragraphs 16(c) and 17 of Group 5 to Schedule 8. It was the appellant’s case that the additional building is an annex intended for use solely for relevant charitable purposes and it meets the conditions set out in paragraph 17(a) & (b).

Decision

The FTT decided that the work was subject to zero rating. Not only was it part of the original construction (albeit that there was a significant time period between the building original work and the work on the storage area) but also, even if the storage area is considered as being separate, it was ruled that, on the facts, it was an annex rather than an extension, so it also qualified for zero rating on this basis.

Commentary

The date a building is “completed” is often an issue which creates significant disputes with HMRC, not only for charities, but for “regular” housebuilders. I have also encountered the distinction between an annex and an extension representing a very real topic, especially with academy schools. Even small changes in circumstances can create differing VAT outcomes. My advice is to seek assistance form a VAT consultant at the earliest stage possible. It may be that with a slight amendment to plans, zero rating may be obtained in order to avoid an extra 20% on building costs which charities, more often than not, are unable to reclaim.

Links to what we can offer to schools here, and charities here

Additionally, our offering to the construction industry here

VAT: Separate or composite supply? The Ice Rink Company Ltd case

By   October 4, 2017

Latest from the courts – Appellant on thin ice?

In the first Tier Tribunal case of The Ice Rink Company Ltd the issue was whether supplies of admission to ice skating rink and the hire of children’s ice skates – where sold as a package were single or multiple supplies. This is yet another separate/composite/compound supply case.

As a background to the issue please see previous relevant cases here here and here (in fact, this case was referred to in this hearing).

The issue of what is a single supply and what must be split as separate supplies seems to be neverending and HMRC appears to have an appetite to challenge every moot position through the courts.

Background

As anyone who has been ice skating will be aware (I tend to avoid the places not least as a result of not wishing to demonstrate my total lack of balance or skill) you can take your own skates, or hire skates for that session. In this case, the costs were £8 to use the rink or £10 with skate hire. The sole issue in the appeal was whether, when the appellants sold a “package deal” at £10 allowing a child to skate and to hire skates, it made a single supply or two separate supplies. If they made separate supplies, the £2 hire of skates to children is zero-rated. If it is a single supply the whole package is standard rated.

Decision

The judge decided that there were two separate supplies and that the skate hire supply could be treated as zero rated. This decision was based on a number of factors put forward by the appellant and which may be summarised as:

  • Skating with skate hire is a mixed supply, as the supply of skates is distinct and separate from the supply of admission
  • Around half the customers wishing to skate brought their own skates and some customers hired skates without paying to skate (at club sessions when a club had hired the rink and they needed skates for their club members). The hire of skates was therefore capable of being carved out from a single supply
  • A single “package” price is not determinative – in this case is it clear to the customer that they have freedom of choice and the components are available separately
  • Despite what HMRC said, it is clear that the skate hire is additional and optional
  • Neither supply is predominant and neither ancillary (as HMRC have previously accepted)
  • There was physical separation between the admission booth and the skate hire zone

The decision helpful included the following observations: “In our view… it is plain that in this case there are two supplies, a supply of the use of a skating rink and the supply of hire of ice skates. Neither is ancillary to the other as they both can be, and are, purchased on their own. Far from it being artificial to split the package into two, that is precisely what is in effect done in a substantial percentage of the appellant’s transactions with those using its facilities.” And “From the customers’ viewpoint a consumer of the package is getting the two things they want. The two elements are dissociable, not because of any spatial separation between the ticket office and the skate hire booth, but because that is the only appropriate way of looking at the supply of the elements.” And “…a substantial percentage of customers will choose to buy one or other of the element but not both, and that it is possible that the same customer may at one time buy a package and at another buy only one of the elements. Therefore it makes no sense to say that the elements are not dissociable when on a majority of the occasions that users enter the reception to use the rinks they choose only one of the two main elements, entry to the rink.”

 Commentary

A sensible decision based on the facts. There does not seem to be an end to these types of cases as the decision is always based on the unique facts of each situation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to draft legislation which covers every type of scenario. Consequently, case law is very important in this area and the lead cases of CPP and Levob are the most cited. This case further illustrates that HMRC are not always correct in reaching a conclusion on multiple/composite supply cases and there is usually value in challenging their determinations. I would also say, from experience, that a review of a business’ activities can often identify such contentious areas and as always, getting it wrong can either result in an assessment and penalties, or mean that a business is paying too much VAT – not something that sits easily with me!

VAT: Latest from the courts – partial exemption attribution

By   October 4, 2017

In court about courts…

In the First Tier tribunal (FTT) case of The Queen’s Club Limited the issue was whether certain input tax was attributable to the company’s taxable activities or, as HMRC contended; to both its taxable and exempt income (so that it was residual). If HMRC were correct an element of the input tax would fall to be irrecoverable via the appellants’ partial exemption calculation. A brief guide to partial exemption here 

Background

The Queen’s Club (The Club) is a well-known members’ tennis club in West London. The Club’s tennis facilities are world-class and each year the Lawn Tennis Association hires the Club’s courts to put on the Aegon Championship which is a precursor to the Wimbledon tournament and attracts many of the world’s leading players. It makes exempt supplies of sporting services to its members and also makes taxable supplies of food and drink in its bars and restaurants. It incurred VAT on the costs of refurbishing the bars, restaurant and café facilities on its premises. The Club considers that it is entitled to a full credit for input tax on those expenses as they were wholly attributable to the taxable supply of catering.

The Club’s revenue comes primarily from the membership fees that it charges. For the year 2012-13 the annual membership fee was £1820. By becoming a member of the Club, a person obtains the right to use both its sporting and non-sporting (catering) facilities. It was decided by the FTT that the Club had a discretion, but not an obligation, to provide the café etc to its members, however it was accepted that most members do not use the social facilities.  It was agreed that the membership fee was consideration for an exempt supply of services closely linked with sport for the purposes of Value Added Tax Act 1994, Schedule 9, item 10. The Club also receives five main sources of taxable income:

  • Fees from the LTA to use its courts for the Aegon Championship
  • Sales of food and drink from restaurant and bars
  • Sales of sporting and other goods
  • Provision of the use of the restaurant and bars, usually with catering
  • Rental income for certain other rooms

The decision

There was no dispute that there was a direct and immediate link between the refurbishment of the restaurant and bars and taxable supplies made from them. The question that divided the parties was whether there was also a direct and immediate link between the refurbishment the exempt membership supplies.

The judge decided that “In short, viewed objectively, what members obtain when they join the Club is a right of access to world-class sporting facilities together with such additional facilities as the Club decides, in its discretion, to offer. The focus is on the sporting facilities…” and that, viewed objectively, the renovated bars and restaurant are a means by which members are able enjoy the Club’s sporting offering. The overall conclusion was that there was no direct and immediate link between the renovation goods and services and exempt supplies that the Club made.

The decision was that the Club was entitled to credit for the full amount of input tax that it incurred.

Commentary

This case demonstrates that care is always required when costs are attributed to a business’ activities. This is especially important when the costs are significant; particularly when they are incurred on land and property. There tends to be a lot of “debate” with HMRC on such matters and slight nuances can affect attribution. These type of costs are often covered by the Capital Goods Scheme, so care must be taken over a ten year period which adds to the complexity.  As always, when considering land and property transactions it pays to obtain professional advice as mistakes are costly. A brief guide to land and property issues here