Category Archives: Disputes

VAT: Disclosure of Avoidance Schemes – new rules

By   January 15, 2018

What needs to be disclosed, and by whom?

The Disclosure of Avoidance Schemes (VAT & Other Indirect Taxes) rules came into effect this month. HMRC Notice 799 sets out the new disclosure rules which are wider than the previous rules and now apply to all indirect taxes (ie; Insurance Premium Tax, General betting Duty, Pool Betting Duty, Remote Gaming Duty, Machine Games Duty, Gaming Duty, Lottery Duty, Bingo Duty, Air Passenger Duty, Hydrocarbon Oils Duty, Tobacco Products Duty, Duties on Spirits, Beer, Wine, Made-Wine and Cider, Soft Drinks Industry Levy, Aggregates Levy, Landfill Tax, Climate Change Levy and Customs Duties) – not just VAT.

The Notice contains information on what to do if a person promotes or uses arrangements (including any scheme, transaction or series of transactions) from 1 January 2018 that will, or are intended to, provide the user with a VAT or other indirect tax advantage when compared to adopting a different course of action.

The information includes:

  • What arrangements must be disclosed to HMRC
  • Who has responsibility to disclose notifiable proposals or arrangements to HMRC
  • Deciding who is a promoter of notifiable proposals or arrangements
  • Deciding who is an introducer of a notifiable proposal
  • What the obligations are as a promoter of notifiable proposals or arrangements
  • What the obligations are as an introducer of a notifiable proposal
  • What the obligations are as a user of notifiable arrangements including when there is a responsibility to disclose
  • How to make a disclosure to HMRC

It is crucially important to establish who is required to notify HMRC and of what. The rules do not just cover tax advisers but may also affect businesses directly.  

The effect of disclosure

A disclosure under the new rules has no effect on the tax position of any person who uses the arrangements. However, a disclosed arrangement may be challenged by HMRC or may be rendered ineffective by legislative action by Parliament.

Please contact us if you think any of the above affects you.

VAT: How well did HMRC perform?

By   January 15, 2018

The Public Accounts Committee has published its report on HMRC’s Performance in 2016–17. Things are far from rosy…

The report highlights concerns for customer service from growing challenges facing HMRC. It states that HMRC is undertaking 15 major transformation programmes and comments that “With Brexit it faces additional pressures and is having to consider how to change priorities. It needs to be clear about what it will do differently, or not do, and what the impact will be on customer service.”

“Together with the Treasury, HMRC has to make tough decisions on how it allocates limited resources to its operations to increase tax revenues, protect performance levels, prioritise its transformation and estate programmes, and invest in measures to tackle tax evasion, fraud and error.”

Comments from the Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP do not hold back:

“HMRC’s transformation programme would have been less risky had it not attempted to do everything at the same time. What was already a precarious high-wire act is now being battered by the winds of Brexit, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Action arising from allegations in the so-called Paradise Papers could also significantly increase the authority’s workload.  HMRC accepts something has to give and it now faces difficult decisions on how best to use its limited resources—decisions that must give full consideration to the needs of all taxpayers. In particular we are concerned about the effect on people simply trying to pay their fair share. HMRC’s customer service has improved on the appalling levels of recent years but its claims about call-answering times don’t stack up. Any new deterioration would be wholly unacceptable.”

There are concerns too about the impact of changes in the welfare system, which could increase the financial risks faced by vulnerable Tax Credits claimants. At the same time, the level of Tax Credits fraud and error has gone up and is only going to get worse.

These are serious, pressing challenges for HMRC, requiring swift and coordinated action in Government. As a matter of urgency the authority must set out a coherent plan and demonstrate it is fit for the future.”

Conclusions and recommendations

Specifically, there are eight conclusions and recommendations which are summarised below:

  • The ‘Paradise Papers’ leak suggests potentially serious and extensive allegations of tax evasion and avoidance.

Recommendation: HMRC should obtain the information from the ‘Paradise Papers’ as soon as possible, and report back to the Committee by March 2018 to set out its response, including any additional revenue likely to be at stake.

  • HMRC is unclear how far it can close the tax gap with existing resources.

Recommendation: HMRC should set target levels for reduction of the tax gap, including for the SME sector, and set out how HMRC will be more responsive to emerging risks.

  • HMRC’s transformation programme is not deliverable as planned due to unrealistic assumptions, and increased pressure from the additional workload caused by Brexit.

Recommendation: HMRC should report back to the Committee by March 2018 with clear plans on how it will manage the many challenges it faces due to Brexit and its ongoing transformation programmes and update its original assumptions and amend its forecasts for its transformation programme, particularly those concerning customer demand for its various services.

  • The committee is not convinced that HMRC will obtain value for money from long-term leases, without break clauses, for its new estate of 13 large regional centres.

Recommendation: HMRC and the Government Property Unit should use their strong negotiating position to ensure they gain sufficient flexibility in the terms for the four regional centre leases yet to be signed, and should examine ways to build in greater flexibility from the eight regional centre leases already signed.

  • The committee recognises the improvements in customer service since the unacceptable levels of 2015−16, but are concerned about HMRC’s ability to maintain this level of performance.

Recommendation: HMRC should ensure it continues to deliver a consistent and reasonable level of service to all its customers. The committee will be monitoring performance and will return to this issue.

  • The average time it takes for customers to speak to an adviser when they call is longer than HMRC claims.

Recommendation: HMRC should introduce a new set of measures that better reflect the actual experience of customers. Automated telephony time should be included within the five minute speed to answer target.

  • Vulnerable people receiving Tax Credits are at increased risk of financial problems as they transfer to Universal Credit.

Recommendation: HMRC to report back to the committee by March 2018 to explain how it will take care of the interests of vulnerable people receiving Tax Credits. This should include how it will work with DWP to manage claimants’ transition to Universal Credit, and protect them against aggressive departmental activity to reclaim overpayments due to error and fraud.

  • We are alarmed to hear that the level of Tax Credits error and fraud has risen and is only going to get worse.

Recommendation: HMRC should set out its strategy for tackling Tax Credits error and fraud, given the additional risks posed by transfer to Universal Credit, including a cost-benefit analysis of its approach.

From a VAT perspective, it does seem that customer service has slightly improved from what was a completely awful level the year before. Unfortunately, this service is still unacceptable and frankly, I also find that the time waiting for a telephone call to be answered as stated by HMRC is highly dubious. Personal experience insists that they still have a great deal of work to do in this area and this is reinforced by discussions with other advisers in all areas of tax.

 

VAT – What records must be kept by a business?

By   January 9, 2018

Requirements for VAT records by taxable persons

I thought that it may be useful to round-up all the record-keeping requirements in one place and focus on what HMRC want to see. It is a good time to review record-keeping requirements as Making Tax Digital (MTD) is on the horizon. More on MTD in a later article.

General requirements

Every taxable person must keep such records as HMRC may require. Specifically, every taxable person must, for the purposes of accounting for VAT, keep the following records:

  • business and accounting records
  • VAT account
  • copies of all VAT invoices issued
  • VAT invoices received
  • certificates issued under provisions relating to fiscal or other warehouse regimes
  • documentation relating to acquisitions of any goods from other EC countries
  • copy documentation issued, and documentation received, relating to the transfer, dispatch or transport of goods by him to other EU countries
  • documentation relating to imports and exports
  • credit notes, debit notes and other documents which evidence an increase or decrease in consideration that are received, and copies of such documents issued
  • copy of any self-billing agreement to which the business is a party
  • where the business is the customer party to a self-billing agreement, the name, address and VAT registration number of each supplier with whom the business has entered into a self-billing agreement

Additionally

HMRC may supplement the above provisions by a Notice published by them for that purpose. They supplement the statutory requirements and have legal force.

Business records include, in addition to specific items listed above, orders and delivery notes, relevant business correspondence, purchases and sales books, cash books and other account books, records of daily takings such as till rolls, annual accounts, including trading and profit and loss accounts and bank statements and paying-in slips.

Unless the business mainly involves the supply of goods and services direct to the public and less detailed VAT invoices are issued, all VAT invoices must also be retained. Cash and carry wholesalers must keep all till rolls and product code lists.

Records must be kept of all taxable goods and services received or supplied in the course of business (standard and zero-rated), together with any exempt supplies, gifts or loans of goods, taxable self-supplies and any goods acquired or produced in the course of business which are put to private or other non-business use.

All records must be kept up to date and be in sufficient detail to allow calculation of VAT. They do not have to be kept in any set way but must be in a form which will enable HMRC officers to check easily the figures on the VAT return. Records must be readily available to HMRC officers on request. If a taxable person has more than one place of business, a list of all branches must be kept at the principal place of business.

Comprehensive records

In addition, we always advise businesses to retain full information of certain calculations such as; partial exemption, the Capital Goods Scheme, margin schemes, TOMS, business/non-business, mileage and subsistence claims, promotional schemes, vouchers, discounts, location of overseas customers, MOSS, and distance selling amongst other records. The aim is to ensure that any inspector is satisfied with the records and that any information required is readily available. This avoids delays, misunderstandings and unnecessary enquiries which may lead to assessments and penalties.

If you have any doubts that your business records are sufficient, please contact us.

VAT – There is no such thing as a free lunch

By   January 3, 2018

Latest from the courts

In the Court of Appeal case of ING Intermediate Holdings Ltd the issue was whether the provision of “free” banking actually constituted a supply for VAT purposes.

Background

The appeal concerned the recoverability of input tax. ING wished to recover (via deduction against the outputs of a separate investment business) a proportion of VAT expenses incurred in connection with a “deposit-taking” business. ING contended that this activity did not involve any VATable supply. HMRC contended, and did so successfully before both prior tribunals, that it is more than a deposit-taking business and involved the provision of banking services.

The issue

The relevant services were supplied to the public, and the user of the services were not charged a fee. Consequently, the essential issue was; whether the “free” banking services were provided for consideration and, if so, how that consideration ought to be quantified for VAT purposes. If there was a consideration, there was a supply, and that supply would be exempt; thus not providing a right to recovery of input tax for the appellant.

Technical

There is no definition of consideration in either the EC Principal VAT Directive or the VAT Act 1994. In the UK, the meaning was originally taken from contract law, but the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed that the term is to be given the Community meaning and is not to be variously interpreted by Member States. The Community definition used in ECJ cases is taken from the EC 2nd VAT Directive Annex A13 as follows even though this Directive is no longer in force:

“…the expression “consideration” means everything received in return for the supply of goods or the provision of services, including incidental expenses (packing, transport, insurance etc), that is to say not only the cash amounts charged but also, for example, the value of the goods received in exchange or, in the case of goods or services supplied by order of a public authority, the amount of the compensation received.”

NB: In order for there to be consideration, it must be able to be quantifiable and able to be expressed in monetary terms.

Decision

The CA decided that although there was no distinct charge to the users of the service, there was a supply of services for a consideration. That consideration was the difference between what the customer obtained from the relevant account, and what he could have obtained from an account which was not free, but provided better returns (the interest rate offered must have contained some deduction for the services provided). This was capable of being expressed in monetary terms (although it is interesting to note that the CA stated that it would be undesirable to say which method should be applied, although the court was “entirely satisfied” that it could be done).

Consequently there was a for VAT purposes and ING’s appeal was therefore dismissed.

Commentary

HMRC quite often argue that there is a supply when in fact, there is no supply. However, they did have a decent argument in this case and I understand that they are likely to apply this to a number of other long running disputes.  Please contact us if you consider that this case could affect your business or your client’s business.

Ding Dong – Avon calling (for VAT)

By   December 21, 2017

Latest from the courts

The CJEU case of Avon Cosmetics Limited considered the validity and completeness of a specific UK derogation called a “Retail Sale Direction”.

Background

Avon Cosmetics Limited (‘Avon’) sells its beauty products in the UK to representatives, known colloquially as ‘Avon Ladies’, who in turn make retail sales to their customers (‘direct selling model’). Many of the Avon Ladies are not registered for VAT. As a result, their profit margins would not normally be subject to VAT. As an example; an Avon Lady may buy goods from Avon at £50 and sell them at £70. In HMRC’s eyes, the £20 difference is not taxed.

“Lost VAT” Derogation

That problem of ‘lost VAT’ at the last stage of the supply chain is typical of direct selling models. In order to deal with the problem, the UK sought and obtained a derogation from the standard rule that VAT is charged on the actual sales price. In Avon’s case that derogation  allowed HMRC to charge Avon VAT, not on the wholesale price paid by the unregistered Avon Ladies, but instead on the retail price at which the Avon Ladies would go on to sell the products to the final consumer. However, the way the derogation is applied does not take into account the costs incurred by the unregistered representatives in their retail selling activities, and the input tax that they would normally have been able to deduct had they been VAT registered (‘notional input tax’). In particular, where Avon Ladies buy products for demonstration purposes (not to resell but to use as a selling aid) they cannot deduct VAT on those purchases as input tax.  The result is that the disregarded notional input tax in relation to such costs ‘sticks’ in the supply chain and increases the overall VAT charged on the direct selling model over that charged on sales through ordinary retail outlets.

Challenge

The appeal by Avon concerns the interpretation and validity of the Derogation.

In particular

  • whether there is an obligation to take into account the notional input tax of direct resellers such as the Avon Ladies
  • whether there was an obligation for the UK to bring the issue of notional input tax to the EC’s attention when it requested the Derogation, and
  • what would be/what are the consequences of failing to comply with either of those obligations?

Result

The CJEU found that neither the derogation authorised by Council Decision 89/534/EEC of 24 May 1989 authorising the UK to apply, in respect of certain supplies to unregistered resellers nor, national measures implementing that decision infringe the principles of proportionality and fiscal neutrality. Therefore, output tax remains due on the ultimate retail sale value, but there is no credit for any VAT incurred by the Avon Ladies.

Deregistration – When a business leaves the VAT club

By   December 11, 2017

This article considers when and how to deregister from VAT and the consequences of doing so.

General points

Deregistration may be mandatory or voluntary depending on circumstances. Although it may be attractive for certain businesses too deregister if possible, this is not always the case. The main reason to remain registered is to recover input tax on purchases made by a business. This is particularly relevant if that business’ sales are:

  • to other VAT registered businesses which can recover any VAT charged
  • supplies are UK VAT free (eg; zero rated)
  • made to recipients outside the UK and in some cases the EU

Businesses which make sales to the public (B2C) are usually better off leaving the VAT club even if this means not being able to recover input tax incurred.

A business applies for deregistration online through its VAT account, or it can also complete a form VAT7 to deregister by post.

NB: These rules apply to businesses belonging in the UK.  There are different rules for overseas business which are outside the scope of this article.

The Rules

Compulsory deregistration

A business must deregister if it ceases to make taxable supplies. This is usually when a business has been sold, but there may be other circumstances, eg; if a business starts to make only exempt supplies, or a charity stops making business supplies and continues with only non-business activities or when an independent body corporate joins a VAT group. In such circumstances there is a requirement to notify HMRC within 30 days of ceasing to make taxable supplies.

We have seen, on a number of occasions, HMRC attempting to compulsorily deregister a business because either; it has not made any taxable supplies (although it has the intention of doing so) or it is only making a small amount of taxable supplies. In the first example, as long as the business can demonstrate that it intends to make taxable supplies in the future it is entitled to remain VAT registered. This is often the position with; speculative property developers, business models where there is a long lead in period, or business such as exploration/exploitation of earth resources.

Voluntary deregistration

A business may apply for deregistration if it expects its taxable turnover in the next twelve to be below the deregistration threshold. This is currently £83,000 which was unchanged in this month’s Budget. It must be able to satisfy HMRC that this is the case. Such an application may be made at any time and the actual date of leaving the club is agreed with HMRC. It should be noted that when calculating taxable income, certain supplies are excluded. These are usually exempt supplies but depending on the facts, other income may also be ignored.

Consequences of deregistration

  • Final return

A deregistered business is required to submit a final VAT return for the period up to and including the deregistration date. This is called a Period 99/99 return.

  • Output tax

From the date of deregistration a business must stop charging VAT and is required to keep its VAT records for a minimum of six years. It is an offence to show VAT on invoices when a business is not VAT registered.

  • Input tax

Once deregistered a business can no longer recover input tax. The sole exception being when purchases relate to the time the business was VAT registered. This tends to be VAT on invoices not received until after deregistration, but were part of the business’ expenses prior to deregistration. Such a claim is made on a form VAT427

  • Self-supply (Deemed supply)

An often overlooked VAT charge is the self-supply of assets on hand at the date of deregistration. A business must account for VAT on any stock and other assets it has on this date if:

  1. It could reclaim VAT when it bought them (regardless of whether such a claim was made)
  2. the total VAT due on these assets is over £1,000

These assets will include items such as; certain land and property (usually commercial property which is subject to an option to tax or is less than three year old), un-sold stock, plant, furniture, commercial vehicles, computers, equipment, materials, etc, but does not include intangible assets such as patents, copyrights and goodwill. The business accounts for VAT on the market value of these assets but cannot treat this as input tax, thus creating a VAT cost.

We usually advise that, if commercially possible, assets are sold prior to deregistration. This avoids the self-supply hit and if the purchaser is able to recover the VAT charged the position is VAT neutral to all parties, including HMRC. It is worth remembering that the self-supply only applies to assets on which VAT was charged on purchase and that there is a de minimis limit. We counsel that care is taken to ensure planning is in place prior to deregistration as it is not possible to plan retrospectively and once deregistered the position is crystallised.

  • Re-registration

HMRC will automatically re-register a business if it realises it should not have cancelled (eg; the anticipated turnover exceeds the deregistration threshold). It will be required to account for any VAT it should have paid in the meantime.

  • Option To Tax

An option to tax remains valid after a registration has been cancelled. A business must monitor its income from an opted property to see whether it exceeds the registration threshold and needs to register again.

  • Capital Goods Scheme (CGS)

If a business owns any capital items when it cancels its registration, it may, because of the rules about deemed supplies (see self-supply above) have to make a final adjustment in respect of any items which are still within the adjustment period. This adjustment is made on the final return.

  • Cash Accounting

A business will have two months to submit its final return after it deregisters. On this return the business must account for all outstanding VAT on supplies made and received prior to deregistration. This applies even if it has not been paid. However, it can also reclaim any VAT provided that you have the VAT invoices. If some of the outstanding VAT relates to bad debts a business may claim relief.

  • Partial exemption

If a business is partly exempt its final adjustment period will run from the day following its last full tax year to the date of deregistration.  If a business has not incurred any exempt input tax in its previous tax year, the final adjustment period will run from the first day of the accounting period in the final tax year in which it first incurred exempt input tax to the date of deregistration.

  • Flat Rate Scheme

If a business deregisters it leaves this scheme the day before its deregistration date. It must, therefore, account for output tax on its final VAT return for sales made on the last day of registration (which must be accounted for outside of the scheme).

  • Self-Billing

If your customers issue VAT invoices on your behalf under self-billing arrangements (or prepare authenticated receipts for you to issue) a deregistering business must tell them immediately that it is no longer registered. They must not charge VAT on any further supplies you make. There are financial penalties if a business issues a VAT invoice or a VAT-inclusive authenticated receipt for supplies it makes after its registration has been cancelled.

  • Bad Debt Relief (BDR)

A business can claim relief on bad debts it identifies after it has deregistered, provided it:

  • has previously accounted for VAT on the supplies
  • can meet the usual BDR conditions 

No claim may be made more than four years from the date when the relief became claimable.

Summary

As may be seen, there is a lot to consider before applying for voluntary deregistration, not all of it good news. Of course, apart from not having to charge output tax, a degree of administration is avoided when leaving the club, so the pros and cons should be weighed up.  Planning at an early stage can assist in avoiding in nasty VAT surprises and we would always counsel consulting an adviser before an irrevocable action is taken. As usual in VAT, if a business gets it wrong there may be an unexpected tax bill as well as penalties and interest.

VAT: Time limit for claiming input tax

By   December 4, 2017

                     Portuguese Judiciary 

Latest from the courts.

In the helpful CJEU case of Biosafe (this link is in French, so with thanks to Mr Lees – for my schoolboy French and more helpfully; a translation website) the issue was the date at which input tax can be reclaimed in cases where VAT was charged at an incorrect rate (lower than should have been applied) and this is subsequently corrected by the issue of an additional VAT only invoice.

Background

The two parties to a transaction believed that a reduced rate of VAT applied to the supply of certain goods. The Portuguese tax authorities subsequently determined the correct VAT rate applicable was higher. The recipient refused to pay the additional tax on the grounds that the recovery of the input tax may be time barred.

Decision

Broadly, the CJEU held that VAT may be recovered on the date when a “correcting” (VAT only) invoice is issued, rather than when the initial tax point was created. So the capping provisions applicable in this case where not an issue.

Commentary

This is often an issue, and I come across it usually in the construction industry (where various VAT rates may be applicable). It is an important issue as in the UK we have a four year capping provision. If the initial supply was over four years ago, any claim for input tax will be time barred if this was deemed to be the only tax point.

In my experience, this issue does create some “confusion” in HMRC and is a helpful point of reference if there are any future disagreements on this matter.  It must be correct that the right to recover input tax only arises when there is a document (invoice) issued to support such a claim as it would not be possible to make a claim without evidence to support it. If the original tax point is used as a one-off date which cannot be subsequently moved, it means that the claim for the difference in the two rates of tax (the original incorrect rate and the later, higher rate) could not be made after the capping period; which seems, at the very least, unfair. The later correcting invoice therefore creates a new tax point.

Please contact us if you have any similar input tax claims disallowed as being time barred, or you are currently in a dispute with HMRC on this matter.

 

EC proposes new tools to combat cross-border VAT fraud

By   December 1, 2017

The European Commission has, this week, unveiled new tools to make the EU’s Value Added Tax (VAT) system more fraud-proof and close loopholes which can lead to large-scale VAT fraud. The new rules aim to build trust between Member States so that they can exchange more information and boost cooperation between national tax authorities and law enforcement authorities to fight VAT fraud.

Commentary

One wonders if this is the type of thing that the UK will miss out on after Brexit. Will this increase the threat of fraud? Will fraudsters target the UK? Or will “taking control of our borders” mean that cross-border VAT fraud will be reduced?

We shall just have to wait and see…..

VAT – Work on farm buildings

By   November 14, 2017

I am quite often asked if there are any VAT reliefs for farming businesses carrying out work to farm buildings.

Indeed, there are some areas of the VAT rules which may be of assistance to owners of farms and farm buildings. Clearly, the best position is to avoid VAT being charged in the first place. If this is not possible, then we need to consider if the VAT may be recovered.

Repairs and Renovations of Farmhouses

The following guidelines apply to businesses VAT registered as sole proprietors or partnerships. Where the occupant of the farmhouse is a director of a limited company (or a person connected with the director of the company) it is unlikely that any VAT incurred on the farmhouse may be recovered. The following notes are provided by HMRC after consultations with the NFU:

  • Where VAT is incurred on repairs, maintenance and renovations, 70% of that VAT may be recovered as input tax provided the farm is a normal working farm and the VAT-registered person is actively engaged full-time in running it. Where farming is not a full-time business for the VAT-registered person, input tax claimable is likely to be between 10%–30% on the grounds that the dominant purpose is a personal one.
  • Where the building work is more associated with an alteration (eg; building an extension) the amount that may be recovered will depend on the purpose for the construction. If the dominant purpose is a business one then 70% may be claimed. If the dominant purpose is a personal one HMRC would expect the claim to be 40% or less, and in some cases, depending on the facts, none of the VAT incurred would be recoverable.

Other farm buildings

As a general rule, when VAT is incurred on non-residential buildings, then, as long as they are used for business purposes, it would be expected that 100% of the VAT is recoverable. Care should be taken if any buildings are let and it may be that planning is necessary in order to achieve full recovery.

It should be noted that if any work to a building which is not residential results in the building becoming residential, eg; a barn conversion, then the applicable VAT rate should be 5%. If the resulting dwelling is sold then generally the 5% VAT is recoverable. If the dwelling is to be lived in by the person converting it; the VAT incurred may be recovered, but the mechanism is outside the usual VAT return and a separate claim can be made. In these circumstances it is not necessary for the “converter” to be VAT registered.

As may be seen, in many cases it will be necessary to negotiate a percentage of recovery with HMRC.  We can assist with this, as well as advising on VAT structures and planning to ensure as much input tax as possible is either not chargeable to you, or is recoverable.