Category Archives: Compliance

VAT Simplification (We can but hope)

By   November 13, 2017

This month The Office Of Tax Simplification has published a document called “Value added tax: routes to simplification”. This includes 23 recommendations on how VAT may be simplified in the UK.   This is the first Office of Tax Simplification review to focus specifically on VAT and it takes a high level look at areas where simplification of either law or administration would be worthwhile.

The report specifically covers the following areas:

  • VAT registration threshold
  • VAT administration
  • Multiple rates
  • Partial exemption
  • Capital Goods Scheme
  • The option to tax
  • Special accounting schemes

The dominant issue that came out of the report is the level of turnover above which a business is required to pay VAT, known as the VAT threshold. At £85,000, the UK has the highest VAT threshold in the EU. The report considered a range of options for reform, in particular setting out the impact of either raising or lowering the threshold to avoid the current “cliff edge” position (many business restrict growth in order to avoid VAT registration, creating a “bunching” effect.  For example, lowering the threshold may create less drag on economic growth but would bring a larger number of businesses into the VAT system. Alternatively, a higher threshold could also result in less distortion but it would clearly raise less tax.

Legislation

It was noted that since the introduction of VAT in the UK, the relevant legislation has grown so that it is now spread across 42 Acts of Parliament and 132 statutory instruments while still retaining some of the complexities of the pre-1973 UK purchase tax system.

Brexit

The report notes that: unlike income taxes, the VAT system is largely prescribed by European Union rules, so Brexit may present an opportunity to consider areas which could be clarified, simplified, or just made easier. It is not clear at present how Brexit will unfold so this review does not embrace aspects of the VAT system which are part of the Brexit negotiations, such as financial services, or focus specifically on cross-border trade.

Recomendations

The summary of the 23 recommendations are reproduced here:

  1. The government should examine the current approach to the level and design of the VAT registration threshold, with a view to setting out a future direction of travel for the threshold, including consideration of the potential benefits of a smoothing mechanism.
  2. HMRC should maintain a programme for further improving the clarity of its guidance and its responsiveness to requests for rulings in areas of uncertainty.
  3. HMRC should consider ways of reducing the uncertainty and administrative costs for business relating to potential penalties when inaccuracies are voluntarily disclosed.
  4. HM Treasury and HMRC should undertake a comprehensive review of the reduced rate, zero-rate and exemption schedules, working with the support of the OTS.
  5. The government should consider increasing the partial exemption de minimis limits in line with inflation, and explore alternative ways of removing the need for businesses incurring insignificant amounts of input tax to carry out partial exemption calculations.
  6. HMRC should consider further ways to simplify partial exemption calculations and to improve the process of making and agreeing special method applications.
  7. The government should consider whether capital goods scheme categories other than for land and property are needed, and review the land and property threshold.
  8. HMRC should review the current requirements for record keeping and the audit trail for options to tax, and the extent to which this might be handled on-line.
  9. HMRC should establish a target to update guidance within a short, defined, period after a legal change or new policy takes effect.
  10. HMRC should explore ways to improve online guidance, making all current information accessible, and to gauge how often queries are answered by online guidance.
  11. HMRC should review options to reduce the uncertainty caused by the suspended penalty rules.
  12. HMRC should draw greater attention to the facility for extending statutory review and appeal time limits to enable local discussions to take place where appropriate.
  13. HMRC should consider ways in which statutory review teams can deepen engagement with business and adviser groups to increase confidence in the process, and for providing greater clarity about the availability and costs of alternative dispute resolution.
  14. HMRC should consider introducing electronic C79 import certificates.
  15. HMRC should consider options to streamline communications with businesses, including the process for making payments to non-established taxable persons.
  16. HMRC should looks at ways of enhancing its support to other parts of government (for example, in guidance) on VAT issues affecting their operations.
  17. HMRC should review its process for engaging with business and VAT practitioner groups to see if representation and effectiveness can be enhanced.
  18. HMRC should explore the possibility of listing zero-rated and reduced rate goods by reference to their customs code, drawing on the experience of other countries.
  19. HMRC should consider ways of ensuring partial exemption special methods are kept up to date, such as giving them a limited lifespan.
  20. The government should consider introducing a de minimis level for capital goods scheme adjustments to minimise administrative burdens.
  21. The government should consider the potential for increasing the TOMS de minimis limit and removing MICE businesses from TOMS.
  22. HMRC should consider updating the DIY House builder scheme to include clearer and more accessible guidance, increased time limits and recovery of VAT on professional services.
  23. HMRC should consider digitising the process for the recovery of VAT by overseas businesses not registered in the UK.

Next Steps

The Chancellor of the Exchequer must now respond to the advice given.

Commentary

A lot of the areas identified have long been crying out for changes and the recommendations appear eminently sensible and long overdue. As an example, the partial exemption de minimis limit has been fixed at £7500 pa for 23 years and consequently the value of purchases it covers has reduced significantly with inflation.  A complete read of the report with prove rewarding as it confirms a lot of beliefs that advisers have long suspected and highlights areas the certainly do require simplification. I am particularly pleased that the complexities of both partial exemption and TOMS have been addressed. Fingers crossed that these recommendations are taken seriously by the government and the Chancellor takes this advice on-board. I am however, not holding my breath. It is anticipated that the early indications of the government’s thinking may be set out in the next Budget.

VAT: Don’t forget to make EC 13th Directive claims

By   November 6, 2017

The deadline for a business to make a 13th Directive claim is fast approaching – don’t miss out!

What is a 13th Directive claim?

A non-EU based business may make a claim for recovery of VAT incurred in the UK. Typically, these are costs such as; employee travel and subsistence, service charges, exhibition costs, imports of goods, training, purchases of goods in the UK, and clinical trials etc.

Who can claim?

The scheme is available for any businesses that are not VAT registered anywhere in the EU, have no place of business or other residence in the EU and do not make any supplies in the UK.

What cannot be claimed?

The usual rules that apply to UK business claiming input tax also apply to 13th Directive claims. Consequently, the likes of; business entertainment, car purchase, non-business use and supplies used for exempt activities are usually barred.

Process

The business must obtain a “certificate of business status” from its local tax or government department to accompany a claim. Claims must via hard copy submission to HMRC as online filing is not yet available. The application form is a VAT65A and is available here  Original invoices which show the VAT charged must be submitted with the claim form and business certificate. Applications without a certificate, or certificates and claim forms received after the deadline are not accepted by HMRC. It is possible for a business to appoint an agent to register to enable them to make refund applications on behalf of that business.

Deadline

Claim periods run annually up to 30 June and must be submitted by 31 December of the same year. Consequently, any UK VAT incurred in the twelve months to 30 June 2017 must be submitted by 31 December 2017.

With the usual Christmas rush and distractions it may be easy to overlook this deadline and some claims may be significant. Unfortunately, this is not a rapid process and even if claims are accurate and the supporting documents are in all in order the claim often takes some time to be repaid.

Note

Please note; there is a similar scheme for businesses incurring VAT in the UK which are based in other EU Member States. However, the process and deadlines are different. Additionally, if you are a UK business incurring VAT (or its equivalent) overseas, there are mechanisms for its recovery. Please contact us if you would like further information.

 

 

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.

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: 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

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: 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…