Category Archives: Land & Property

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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 HMRC Updates

By   October 12, 2017

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

Full details here And a brief summary below:

VAT manuals

VAT Land and Property/Construction

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

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

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

VAT Education

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

New and revised VAT Notices

702: imports

701/49: finance

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

700/58: treatment of VAT repayment returns and supplements

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

714: zero rating young children’s clothing and footwear

New VAT Information Sheets and Revenue and Customs Briefs

VAT Information Sheets

Revenue and Customs Briefs

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

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

By   October 9, 2017

Latest from the courts

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

Background

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

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

Technical background

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

Note 16

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

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

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

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

Note 17

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

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

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

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

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

The Appeal

The Trustees appealed on two separate and distinct bases:

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

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

Decision

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

Commentary

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

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

Additionally, our offering to the construction industry here

VAT: 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

VAT due on property search fees? Whether they are disbursements

By   September 25, 2017

Latest from the courts – Brabners LLP

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

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

Background

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

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

The issues were:

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

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

Contentions 

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

Decision

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

 Consequences

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

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

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

VAT: 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)?

Background

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.

Technical

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).

Dwellings

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.

Decision

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.

Commentary

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.