Category Archives: HMRC Publications

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protection from assessments for deemed underdeclared VAT as a result of incorrect advice or actions by HMRC has been withdrawn.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…

VAT Public Notice 700 Updated

By   August 25, 2017

Notice 700: The VAT Guide has been updated.

This HMRC Notice is a “starting point” for general VAT information and provides a guide to all the main VAT rules and procedures. It also provides assistance with the problems faced by business and includes an index which helps users find further information by referring to a particular section or paragraph in one of HMRC’s other, more specialised publications. There have been over 30 changes to the Notice which was last updated in 2016.

A full list of changes is set out in the Notice, but the most salient are as follows:

  • Additional guidance on MOSS – para 4.8.4
  • Single and mixed supplies – para 8.1
  • Continuous supplies to connected persons – para 14.3.1
  • Various commentary on invoices (including electronic invoicing) – paras 16.6, 16.8, 17.7 17.8
  • Accounting schemes – para 19.2
  • Agents registered for VAT acting in their own name when the customer is not registered – para 1.2
  • Penalties for inaccuracies – para 27.3
  • Integrity of supply chains – para 27.5.2

The number of changes in just one year highlights the fast pace of the tax and the number of challenges which taxpayers have won. I cannot see this pace letting up in the future either.

As always, if you have any queries about the changes, please contact us.

Brexit: The future of Customs arrangements

By   August 21, 2017

In a paper called Future Customs arrangements: A Future Partnership Paper the Government have given us some idea of what the UK’s relationship with the EU may look like after Brexit.

It is a paper which is part of a series which sets out the key issues and forms part of the Government’s stated vision for the relationship (called a “partnership” in the document) and is said to explore how the UK and EU will “work together” with respect to Customs. The aim is to facilitate the “most friction-less trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU”.  It is noted that this approach is purely “aspirational” and represents the first steps in exploring the position. However, it does inform on the Government’s thinking. The two main approaches may be summarised as:

  1. The Streamlined Arrangement

A highly streamlined customs arrangement between the UK and the EU, streamlining and simplifying requirements, leaving as few additional requirements on EU trade as possible. This would aim to;

  • continue some of the existing arrangements between the UK and the EU
  • put in place new negotiated and potentially unilateral facilitations to reduce and remove barriers to trade
  • implement technology-based solutions to make it easier to comply with Customs procedures

This approach involves utilising the UK’s existing third country processes for UK-EU trade building on EU and international precedents, and developing new innovative facilitations to deliver as friction-less a Customs border as possible.

  1. A New Partnership

A new customs partnership with the EU, aligning the UK’s approach to the Customs border in a way that removes the need for a UK-EU Customs border. One potential approach would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU.

This is of course unprecedented as an approach and could be challenging to implement and the UK Government will look to explore the principles of this with business and the EU.

The document also considers that the Government would seek to introduce an interim period for implementing changes to Customs arrangements.

Discussions with affected businesses will continue before the publication of a Customs Bill in the autumn.

We will monitor this situation and bring you information on any developments. In the meantime, those businesses which carry out cross-border transactions in goods may want to review their current procedures in anticipation of the changes which will surely be introduced in one form or another.

Alas, as with anything Brexit related, nobody can be sure what the future holds and there will be a great deal of uncertainty until we know the actual outcome and consequently, the impact on business.

VAT: Latest from the courts –zero rating of sub-contractors’ supplies

By   August 8, 2017

In the First Tier Tribunal case of Summit Electrical Installations Ltd the issue was whether supplies in respect of student accommodation made by an electrical sub-contractor were eligible for zero rating as supplies in the course of construction of buildings designed as a series of dwellings. Alternatively, were they, as HMRC contended; standard rated supplies in the course of construction of a building used for a Relevant Residential Purpose (RRP)?


The appellant was appointed as the electrical subcontractor working to a main contractor on a development known as Primus Place in Leicester. This development is a seven storey block of student accommodation comprising 140 studio flats and associated facilities. Floors one to six are similar in layout with the majority of the studio flats being the same size. There are also a number of larger studios on some floors. On the ground floor there is a communal reception, cycle store, and laundry. In addition management offices, stores, bins and plant rooms are situated on the ground floor. Each of the studio flats was fitted out with a bathroom pod (a unit including shower, sink and toilet) installed in the corner of the room. In addition there was a small kitchenette with dish washing sink, countertop, cooker, fridge and microwave. Through a doorless stud wall is an open plan sleeping area and walk in cupboard.

The planning permission was granted subject to one relevant condition which provided that at the development: “…no person other than a full time student attending the University of Leicester or DeMontfort University…shall occupy these flats at any time”.

The main contractor provided a zero rating certificate to the appellant. This certificate certified that the developer of the site intended to use the buildings for a relevant residential purpose, namely student living accommodation.


In this case the distinction between the construction of dwellings and RRPs is that sub-contractors may zero rate their supplies if the work is in respect of dwellings, but those same supplies are standard rated if what is being constructed is a RRP. It is useful to consider the distinction here.

Relevant Residential Purpose

RRP means use as:

(a) a home or other institution providing residential accommodation for children

(b) a home or other institution providing residential accommodation with personal care for persons in need of personal care by reason of old age, disablement, past or present dependence on alcohol or drugs or past or present mental disorder

(c) a hospice

(d) residential accommodation for students or school pupils

(e) residential accommodation for members of any of the armed forces

(f) a monastery, nunnery or similar establishment, or

(g) an institution which is the sole or main residence of at least 90 per cent. of its residents

but not use as a:

hospital or similar institution

prison or similar institution, or

hotel, inn or similar establishment

Clearly, by the above definition, student accommodation is deemed to be a RRP. Therefore, the Tribunal was asked to consider whether the accommodation would also qualify as dwellings, and if so, whether “designed as a dwelling” takes precedence. The definition of a dwelling is as follows (“Note 2” as referred to below).


A building is designed as a dwelling or a number of dwellings where in relation to each dwelling the following conditions are satisfied:

(a) the dwelling consists of self-contained living accommodation;

(b) there is no provision for direct internal access from the dwelling to any other dwelling or part of a dwelling;

(c) the separate use, or disposal of the dwelling is not prohibited by the term of any covenant, statutory planning consent or similar provision; and

(d) statutory planning consent has been granted in respect of that dwelling and its construction or conversion has been carried out in accordance with that consent.


The judge ruled that the accommodation qualified as dwellings for the purpose of zero rating such that the sub-contractors supplies could also be zero rated. This was the case even though the planning permission contained a condition restricting their use to students of the universities only. The building also qualified as a RRP but via VAT Act 1994, Schedule 8, Group 5, note 2 – designed as a dwelling takes precedence over RRP.

NB: The Tribunal also found that HMRC guidance which sets out that in similar circumstances it is the main contractor who determines which type of zero rating applies to a particular development has no basis in law. It is the responsibility of the sub-contractor to determine whether it is working on a dwelling or a RRP building regardless of the main contractor’s position.


HMRC appeared to have relied solely on para (c) of Note 2 (above) to disqualify the accommodation from being dwellings, on the basis that the planning permission prohibited occupation by any other person than students of the universities, but the judge was having none of that. The decision was hardly unexpected, but the comments on there being no legal basis to support HMRC’s published guidance is helpful and provides clarity.

As always, when analysing supplies of construction services (plus associated goods) and transactions involving land and property it pays to get proper VAT advice. There are many traps for the unwary and the values involved are usually high.  The cost of getting it wrong can be very harmful to a business.

VAT – Latest from the courts: Fleming claims

By   July 26, 2017

In the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of NHS Lothian Health Board “the Board” the judge was asked to consider whether the Board had a valid Fleming claim* in respect of certain laboratory services performed from 1974 to 1997. The relevant services were, inter alia; Nequas work, food-testing, water-testing, non-medical testing of samples, especially for public health, and research and development.


The appeal was rejected. Although the Tribunal accepted the considerable evidence and testimony from members of staff working for the Board during the relevant years, and had decided that the relevant supplies were subject to VAT (they were not exempt of non-business) unfortunately, there was insufficient documentary evidence to actually quantify the amount of input tax claimed.  Of course, in order to recover input tax, it had to relate to taxable (business) supplies made by the appellant. The Tribunal was required to consider whether the business income of the laboratories could be calculated. The FTT considered that whilst the evidence was helpful in determining that taxable supplies were made, that evidence fell short of facilitating its quantification. While the business income was almost certainly significant, the Tribunal did not consider that it has been quantified satisfactorily for the whole period.

The appellant contended that a set percentage representing business income could be projected backwards to earlier VAT periods. The Tribunal did not consider such an approach “reasonable or acceptable” and that the timescale involved also undermined the likely accuracy of the process of extrapolation. (The Tribunal suggested that there is a need to have a verifiable percentage, calculated by reference to prime records at regular intervals. For example, it might well be acceptable in a 25 year period to have verifiable figures every five years, and if there is not significant variation, to use extrapolated figures for the intervening years).  There was also uncertainty about the Board’s partial exemption position and how, historically, apportionment was carried out.


This case demonstrates the difficulty of making retrospective claims that go back to the early 1970s, that’s over 40 years ago! It is to be expected that certain records may be absent and HMRC has previously agreed that the required information may be established by other methods, however, a claim has to be made on the basis of “something more concrete” than a backwards projection of a percentage figure calculated from more contemporary records. The judge gave an example of evidence that may be acceptable in these circumstances.

The outcome does seem somewhat unfair given the fact that all parties agree that VAT was overpaid due to an error made by HMRC, but the level of evidence required to support a Fleming claim has to be of a certain standard to be accepted.

As always in VAT – record keeping is of the utmost importance.

* Background to Fleming claims
Fleming claims’ are claims for underdeclared or overpaid VAT, potentially going back as far as the inception of VAT in 1973. They followed the House of Lords judgements in January 2008 in the cases of Fleming and Conde Nast (Fleming) which concerned the way that the three year time limit on making claims had been introduced. In Revenue and Customs Brief 07/08, published on 20 February 2008, claims were invited in respect of overpaid output tax for accounting periods ending before 1 May 1997. Subsequent legislation in the 2008 Finance Act limited the scope for making claims for these accounting periods by introducing a new transitional period ending 1 April 2009, before which any such claims had to be made.


VAT treatment of vouchers, gifts and discounts – How business promotions work

By   July 17, 2017

discount b&w1Business promotions are an area of VAT which continues to prove complex.  This is further exacerbated by changes to the legislation at EC and domestic level and ongoing case law.

The VAT position is summarised here. Part of this commentary has been taken directly from HMRC guidance on the subject and is the most up to date authority on the matter.  I thought it may be useful if the VAT treatment of various business promotion schemes is summarised in one place.

…I recall a statement from an old mentor of mine; “if you have a marketing department you have a VAT problem!”


Offer How to charge VAT
Discounts Charged on the discounted price (not the full price)
Gifts Charged on the gift’s full value – there are some exceptions listed below
Multi-buys Charged on the combined price if all the items have the same VAT rate. If not, VAT is ‘apportioned’ as mixed-rate goods
Money-off coupons, vouchers etc No VAT due if given away free at time of a purchase. If not, VAT due on the price charged
Face value vouchers that can be used for more than one type of good or service (multi-purpose) No VAT due, if sold at or below their monetary value
Face value vouchers that can only be used for one type of good or service (single-purpose) VAT due on the value of the voucher when issued
Redeemed face value vouchers Charged on the full value of the transaction at the appropriate rate of the goods provided in return for the voucher

 Exceptions for gifts

There’s no VAT due on gifts given to the same person if their total value in a 12 month period is less than £50.

Free goods and services

You don’t have to pay VAT on things like free samples if they meet certain conditions.

Supplies Condition to meet so no VAT due
Free samples Used for marketing purposes and provided in a quantity that lets potential customers test the product
Free loans of business assets The cost of hiring the asset is included in something else you sell to the customer
Free gifts The total cost of all gifts to the same person is less than £50 in a 12 month period
Free services You don’t get any payment or goods or services in return

Face value vouchers

Recent changes, radically alter the UK rules for face value vouchers. Face value vouchers are vouchers, tokens, stamps (physical or electronic) which entitle the holder to certain goods or services up to the value on the face of the vouchers from the supplier of those goods or services.

Examples of face value vouchers would include vouchers sold by popular group discount websites, vouchers sold by high street retailers, book tokens, stamps and various high street vouchers.

Single or multi-purpose

The most important distinction for face value vouchers is whether a voucher is a single purpose voucher or multi-purpose voucher. If it is a multi-purpose voucher then little has changed. If it is a single purpose voucher, however, HMRC will now charge VAT when it is issued.

Single purpose vouchers are vouchers which carry the right to receive only one type of goods or services which are all subject to a single rate of VAT. Multi-purpose vouchers are anything else. The differences can be quite subtle.

For example:

  • a voucher which entitles you to download an e-book from one seller will be a single purpose voucher. A voucher which entitles you to either books (zero rated) or an e-book download (standard rated) from the same seller will be multi-purpose
  • a voucher which entitles you to £10 of food at a restaurant which does not sell takeaways is probably single purpose, whereas if the restaurant has a cold salad bar and you can buy a take away with the voucher (or hot food) then it would be multi-purpose. 

The above means that for single purpose vouchers VAT is due whether the voucher is actually redeemed or not; which seems an unfair result. There is no way to reduce output tax previously accounted for if the voucher is not used.

The situations set out above are often further complicated when three or more parties are involved, but that’s a detailed article for another day….

VAT and Customs Duties. Bringing goods into the UK – A brief guide

By   June 12, 2017

VAT and duty on and imports and acquisitions 

The rules covering bringing goods into the UK are complex and set out in different areas of the legislation and HMRC guidance. I thought it may be helpful bring some of the most salient rules together in one place. Of course, with Brexit, some of the information below may be subject to change. Most likely, acquisitions will take on more of the rules applicable to imports, but we shall see…

If you are bringing goods into the UK it is important to recognise the VAT and duty rules and procedures.  You must ensure that you pay the right amount of VAT and import duties via the correct mechanism.

Goods brought into the UK from other EC countries are called acquisitions rather than imports, and this is an important distinction as we shall see below.

The details and practicalities can be complex and you may want to seek advice or use an agent or freight forwarder to handle your responsibilities, particularly if you are new to international trade or only need to bring goods here occasionally.

Acquisition of goods from EC Member States

The EC Member States

The 28 EC countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.


If you are UK VAT registered you need to give your supplier your VAT number. This allows the supplier to treat the sale to you as VAT free.  You will need a VAT invoice as with any other purchase. If not UK VAT registered you will pay VAT applicable in the Member State of the supplier.

Accounting for VAT 

You must account for VAT on acquisitions (“acquisition tax”) on your VAT return. VAT is charged at the normal UK rate of VAT for those goods.  You reclaim this acquisition tax in the same way as you reclaim input tax on purchases of supplies within the UK.  So for most businesses the effect is VAT neutral.  In this way there is no difference between buying the goods in the UK or another EC Member State so it rules out cross-border “VAT rate shopping”. There are no Customs Duties to pay on acquisitions.


All VAT-registered businesses must show the total value of goods acquired from other EU Member States in box 9 of their VAT Return.

In addition, those who trade in the EC above the Intrastat exemption threshold in force during the year must also complete a monthly Supplementary Declaration (SD). The threshold is £1.5 million.

Importing goods from outside the EC

Your responsibilities for imports

You are normally responsible for clearing the goods through UK customs and paying any taxes and duties. Your supplier needs to provide the documentation you need to clear the goods through Customs. If you are importing you may have to pay import duty.

You will need to decide whether to use an agent to handle your responsibilities.  Freight forwarders can handle Customs clearance as well as transport. You can find reputable freight forwarders through the British International Freight Association: here 

You need to check what import duty applies

Import duty is based on the type of goods you are importing, the country they originate from and their value. HMRC’s Integrated Tariff sets out the classification of goods and the rates of duty in detail: here

Confirm what paperwork you require from the supplier for Customs clearance

This normally includes an invoice and a copy of the transport documents.  You may need proof of the origin of the goods to claim reduced import duty for goods from certain countries. A valuation document is also normally required for imports above a set value.

Complete an import declaration

You normally declare imports using the Single Administrative Document (SAD).  If you are registered for VAT in the UK you will need an EORI (Economic Operator Registration & Identification) to enable your inbound commercial shipments to be cleared through the automated  CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight). This is made up of your VAT number, plus a further three digits.

Release of goods

You will need to pay VAT and duty to get the goods released. You pay VAT at the normal UK rate for those goods when sold in the UK.


Regular importers are able to defer payment of VAT and duty by opening a deferment account with HMRC. You need to provide security and must agree to pay by direct debit. It is also possible to use your agent or freight forwarder’s deferment account.

Accounting for VAT

HMRC will send you a monthly C79 certificate showing the import VAT you have paid. You must retain this.  Certificates cover accounting transactions made in each calendar month should be received around the 24th of each month following imports logged the previous month.

You can reclaim VAT paid on imports on a C79 in the same way as you reclaim input tax on purchases of supplies within in the UK.  It is not possible to reclaim VAT on any other document, eg; an invoice.  Shipping or forwarding agents can’t reclaim this input tax because the goods weren’t imported to be used in part of their business.

NB: If you import works of art, antiques and collectors’ items they are entitled to a reduced rate of VAT.

You cannot reclaim import duty.

Be aware of special cases

Check whether any goods you are buying are subject to Excise Duty

Excise duty is charged on fuel, alcohol and tobacco products. It is charged on acquisitions from within the EU as well as imports from countries outside the EC. If goods are subject to excise duty, you pay this at the same time as you pay VAT and import duty.

VAT is charged on the value of the goods plus excise duty.


You may want to consider using a Customs warehouse if you expect to store imports for a long time. If you store goods in a Customs warehouse, you will not need to pay import duty and VAT until you remove the goods from the warehouse.

Storage ‘in bond’ like this is often used for products subject to excise duty, such as wine and cigarettes, although it is not limited to these goods.

Re-exported goods

You will also find it beneficial to find out about tax relief if you are planning to re-export goods you import.  There are special Inward Processing Relief (IPR) rules so that you do not have to pay import duty and VAT.  This relief can apply to imports that you process before re-exporting them.

Valuation of imported goods for VAT and Duties

There are six methods of valuing imported goods, however, in the vast majority of cases (over 90%) the “Transaction Method” is used and, in fact, you must use this method wherever possible.

Transaction Value

This is the price paid or payable by the buyer to the seller for the goods when sold for export to the EC adjusted in accordance with certain specific rules.

This may also cover situations where goods are imported from a processor. The “transaction value” may be “built up” or “constructed” by reference to the cost of processing plus any items to be added commonly referred to as “assists”.

What items must be added to the price paid or payable?

You must add the following to the price you pay (unless they are already included):

(a) Delivery costs. – The costs of transport, insurance, loading or handling connected with delivering the goods to the EC border must be included.

(b) Commissions. – Certain payments of commission and brokerage, including selling commission, must be included.

But you can exclude buying commission if it is shown separately from the price paid or payable for the goods.

(c) Royalties and licence fees. – You must include these payments when they relate to the imported goods and are paid by you as a condition of the sale to you of those goods.

(d) Goods and services provided free of charge or at reduced cost by the buyer. –  If you provide, directly or indirectly, any of the following, you must include in the customs value any part of the cost or value not included in the price charged to you by the seller:

  1. materials, components, parts and similar items incorporated in the imported goods including price tags, kimball tags, labels
  2. tools, dies, moulds and similar items used in producing the imported goods, for example, tooling charges. There are various ways of apportioning these charges

iii.          materials consumed in producing the imported goods, for example, abrasives, lubricants, catalysts, reagents etc which are used up in the manufacture of the goods but are not incorporated in them,

  1. engineering, development, artwork, design work and plans and sketches carried out outside the EC and necessary for producing the imported goods. The cost of research and preliminary design sketches is not to be included.

(e) Containers and packing. Include:

  1. the cost of containers which are treated for customs purposes as being one with the goods being valued (that is not freight containers the hire-cost of which forms part of the transport costs), and
  2. the cost of packing whether for labour or materials

Where containers are for repeated use, for example, reusable bottles, you can spread their cost over the expected number of imports. If a number of the containers may not be re-exported, this must be allowed for.

(f) Proceeds of resale. – If you are to share with the seller (whether directly or indirectly) the profit on resale, use or disposal of the imported goods you must add the seller’s share to the price paid. If at the time of importation the amount of profit is not known, you must request release of the goods against a deposit or guarantee.

(g) Export duty & taxes paid in the country of origin or export. – When these taxes are incurred by the buyer they are dutiable. However, if you benefit from tax relief or repayment of these taxes they may be left out of the customs value.


If you are new to acquisitions or importing it may be worthwhile talking to an expert.  This article only scratches the surface of the subject. There can be significant savings made by accurately classifying goods and applying the correct procedures and rates will avoid assessments and penalties being levied. Planning may also be available to defer when tax is paid on imports and acquisitions.

VAT: Hardship applications

By   May 15, 2017

The recent case of Elbrook (Cash & Carry) Ltd here brings into focus the concept of “hardship”.  In this case Elbrook successfully appealed to the Upper Tribunal (UT) against HMRC decision that the appellant should seek additional finance to pay the VAT said to be due rather than allow the case to be heard without that payment on the grounds of hardship.

So what is the process and what is “hardship”?


If a taxpayer wishes to appeal to the Tribunal against a decision made by HMRC he must pay any disputed VAT before the case can be heard. The reason for this is understandable, without this rule taxpayers could make an appeal merely to delay the payment of tax and it is a difficult test to satisfy. However, if the applicant is able to demonstrate that payment of the VAT would cause financial hardship the rule may be waived  by HMRC. This decision is an appealable matter. (NB: There is no requirement to pay interest or penalties before appealing but interest will continue to accumulate on an assessment).  If a business believes that paying the amount it wishes to appeal against would cause it hardship it can ask HMRC not to collect the payment due until the appeal has been considered by the tribunal. It will need to:

  • write to the officer who made the original decision
  • explain how paying this amount before the appeal hearing would cause the business hardship

Depending on the size of the business, the explanation should include detailed evidence of its financial position and the impact of paying the disputed tax. I have seen many applications fail as a result of incomplete evidence, or general statements that are not evidenced by documentation.  It pays to put a comprehensive application together and have this reviewed by an adviser before it is submitted.

HMRC will write and tell you whether or not they agree with delaying the payment. If they do not, the business can go to Tribunal

The law

The rules where applicable are set out in the VAT Act 1994, section 84(3)

 “Where the appeal is against a decision… it shall not be entertained unless—

 “(a) the amount which the Commissioners have determined to be payable as VAT has been paid or deposited; or

 (b) on being satisfied that the appellant would otherwise suffer hardship the Commissioners agree or the tribunal decides that it should be entertained notwithstanding that that amount has not been so paid or deposited.”

Section 84(3) is intended to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the desire to prevent abuse of the appeal mechanism by employing it to delay payment of the disputed tax, and on the other to provide relief from the stricture of an appellant having to pay or deposit the disputed sum as the price for entering the appeal process, where to do so would cause hardship.


Unhelpfully, this term is not defined in the legislation, nor in HMRC guidance. Consequently, we must look at case law.  The following comments in the “original” Elbrook case – (2016) UKFTT 0191 (citing various previous cases, mainly “ToTel 1 and 2”) assist in understanding a hardship appeal:

  • Decisions on hardship should not stifle meritorious appeals
  • The test is one of capacity to pay without financial hardship, not just capacity to pay
  • The time at which the question is to be asked is the time of the hearing. This may be qualified if the appellant has put themselves in a current position of hardship deliberately (eg; by extraction of funds otherwise readily available from a company by way of dividend), or if there is significant delay on the part of the appellant
  • The question should be capable of decision promptly from readily available material
  • The enquiry should be directed to the ability of an appellant to pay from resources which are immediately or readily available (a business is not expected to seek funding outside its normal sources, nor sell assets)
  • The test is all or nothing. The ability to pay part of the VAT without hardship does not matter
  • If the Tribunal has fixed a cut off point for the admission of material, it is not an error of law for the Tribunal to ignore any later furnished evidence
  • The absence of contemporaneous accounting information is a justification for the Tribunal to conclude that it can place little if any weight on the appellant’s assertion that it is unable to afford to pay

The onus of proof in such cases is on the taxpayer to demonstrate hardship and without persuasive evidence such applications are unlikely to succeed.


If your business, or your client’s business is the subject of a disputed decision, it should review its financial position and consider appealing against the decision even if paying the disputed amount would cause hardship.  A business should not be put off appealing just because it would suffer hardship. We are able to assist in any review required.

VAT – Input tax recovery by holding companies

By   May 10, 2017

HMRC has published updated guidance on the recovery of input tax incurred by holding companies.

The guidance may be found here

It is important for holding companies and/or their advisers to read and understand the changes to the VAT recovery rules as costs are often significant. The changes are a result of various UK and CJEU case law which, in general, considered; the definition of economic activity, the direct and immediate link to taxable supplies made by a holding company, the contractual and payment arrangements and the use of the input tax.

Key Points

The guidance considers:

  • When a shareholding is used as part of an economic activity
  • Is the Holding Company the recipient of the supply?
  • Is the Holding Company undertaking economic activity for VAT purposes?
  • Shareholding acquired as a direct, continuous and necessary extension
  • Intention to make taxable supplies
  • Contingent consideration for management services
  • The effect of a holding company joining a VAT Group
  • Stewardship costs
  • Mixed economic and non-economic activities


In order to recover the relevant input tax, it must be incurred by a taxable person in the course of an economic activity and have a direct and immediate link to taxable supplies made by that person. This has been a long settled definition and the guidance seeks to apply these tests to holding companies.  This means that, in order to receive a supply, a holding company must;

  • Contract for it
  • Use it
  • Be invoiced for it
  • Pay for it


The publication considers previously disputed situations such as:

  • Services provided on contingent terms are not an economic activity because the necessary reciprocity between the obligations of the holding company and of the subsidiary is absent
  • How input tax incurred by holding companies which make taxable supplies to some subsidiaries and not to others and those that make taxable supplies and exempt loans should be dealt with
  • If a shareholding is acquired as a direct, continuous and necessary extension of a taxable economic activity of the holding company the input tax incurred on acquisition costs may be deducted even if management charges are not made
  • A holding company joining a VAT group cannot change a non-economic activity into an economic one or create an automatic link between holding company costs and the taxable outputs of other group members (For VAT to be deductible, the holding company must provide management services to the companies acquired in the VAT group, or earn interest from loans granted to them, and these must support taxable supplies made by the VAT group)
  • If a member of a VAT group incurs costs for non-economic (“business”) activity, the supplies are treated as being used by the representative member for non-economic purposes
  • Stewardship costs (group audit, legal, brand defence, bid defence etc) are costs for the purposes of the VAT group as a whole rather than for the purposes of the holding company activities


The previous input tax position of holding companies should be reviewed in light of the above guidance and adjustments made as necessary.  In some cases, the guidance may provide additional opportunities to reclaim input tax which was previously thought to be barred, and conversely, it is possible that VAT claimed as a result of the understanding of the position at the time may need to be repaid.

We can assist in reviewing the input tax position of holding companies and advising on structures for future intended acquisitions.  The four year cap applies to such adjustments of input tax, so the clock is ticking for past transactions.


Image: company stamps

VAT Inspections …and how to survive them

By   May 5, 2017

VAT Inspections

The first point to make is that inspections are usually quite standard and routine and generally there is nothing to worry about.  They are hardly enjoyable occasions, but with planning they can be made to go as smoothly as possible. As an inspector in my previous life, I am in a good position to look at the process from “both sides”.  If you are concerned that the inspection is not routine (for any reason) please contact us immediately.


Typically, the initial meeting will begin with an interview with the business owner (and/or adviser) to go through the basic facts.  The inspector will seek to understand the business and how it operates and will usually assess the answers with specific tests (further tests will be applied to the records).  After the interview the inspector(s) will examine the records and will usually have further queries on these. More often than not they will carry out; bank reconciliations, cash reconciliations, mark-up exercises, and often “references” which are the testing of transactions using information obtained from suppliers and customers.  There are many other exercises that may be carried out depending on the type of business.  Larger businesses have more regular inspections where one part of the business is looked at each meeting.  The largest businesses have more or less perpetual inspections (as one would expect).  The length of the inspection usually depends on:

  • Size of the business
  • Complexity of the business
  • Type of business (HMRC often target; cash businesses, the construction industry, property investment, partially exempt businesses, charities and NFP entities, cross-border transactions and financial services providers amongst others)
  • Compliance history
  • Associated/past businesses
  • Intelligence received
  • Errors found
  • Credibility of the business owner and records

The above measurements will also dictate how often a business is inspected.

More details on certain inspections/investigations here

The initial inspection may be followed by subsequent meetings if required, although our aim is to conclude matters at the time of the first meeting.

The inspection – how to prepare 

  • Ensure that both the person who completes the VAT returns and the person who signs the VAT returns will be available for all of the day(s) selected
  • Arrange with your adviser, to be available to you and the inspector on the days of the inspection
  • Thoroughly review your VAT declarations and have ready, if relevant, any disclosures or other declarations you consider you need to make to HMRC at the start of the inspection (this should avoid penalties)
  • Have available all VAT returns and working papers for the last four years or the period since you were registered for VAT including:
    • Annual accounts
    • The VAT account and all related working papers
    • All books and accounts, cashbook, petty cashbook, sales and purchases day books
    • Sales and purchase invoices
    • All supporting documentation, eg; contracts, correspondence, etc.
    • Bank statements
    • VAT certificate and certificate of registration
    • Any other documentation relating to “taxable supplies”
  • Have available the full VAT correspondence files ensuring that they are fully up-to-date
  • Ensure you have full information on any; one-off, unusual or particularly high value transactions

 The inspection – during the visit 

  • Ask the inspector(s) to identify themselves by name on arrival (they carry identity cards)
  • Be polite, friendly and hospitable as far as possible
  • Make a desk or space available for them to work near to you – in this way you can oversee/overlook what they do
  • Only allow access to the files that form part of your “VAT Records”
  • Enable the VAT inspector, if they ask, to inspect your business premises (and have someone accompany them)
  • Be cautious with your answers to seemingly “innocent” questions and comments. If in doubt ask for time to check, or that the question be put in writing (never guess or provide an answer which you think HMRC want)
  • If something inconsistent is found (or suggested) ask for full details and take note of all of the documentation to which the query relates – this will enable you to provide necessary information to your adviser

The inspection – at the end of the visit

The inspector should:

  • Explain the main work they have done. For example which VAT accounting periods they reviewed
  • Explain any areas of concern they have, discuss them and seek to agree any future action that needs to be taken; and
  • Illustrate as fully as possible the size and reason for any adjustment to the VAT payable, and describe how the adjustment will be made

You should:

  • Obtain a summary of the inspection from HMRC (not always an easy task)
  • Ask the inspector to put all of HMRC’s concerns about your business to you in writing
  • Confirm with the inspector all time limits for providing additional information to HMRC

After the inspection

HMRC will write to you confirming:

  • Any issues identified
  • Further information required
  • Improvements required to record keeping
  • Any corrections required
  • Whether VAT has been over or under paid
  • Any penalties and interest which will be levied
  • Deadlines for payment.

On a final point: Never simply assume that the inspector is correct in his/her decision.  It always pays to seek advice and challenge the decision where possible.  Even if it is clear that an error has been made, mitigation may be possible.

We can provide a pre-inspection review as well as attending inspections if required.  It is quite often the case that many HMRC enquiries may be nipped in the bud at the time of the inspection rather than becoming long drawn out sagas. We can also act as negotiator with HMRC and handle disputes on your behalf.