Category Archives: Latest from the Courts

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definition used in ECJ cases is taken from the EC 2nd VAT Directive Annex A13 as follows even though this Directive is no longer in force: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.

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 – Littlewoods compound interest Supreme Court judgement

By   November 6, 2017

Latest from the courts

The Littlewoods Limited case

This is a long running case on whether HMRC is required to pay compound interest (in addition to simple statutory interest) in cases of official error (Please see below for details of how the overpayment initially arose). Such errors are usually in situations where UK law is incompatible with EC legislation.  Previous articles have covered the progress of the case: here and here

Background

Littlewoods was seeking commercial restitution for overpayments of VAT previously made. It’s view was that an appropriate recompense was the payment of compound interest. It was accepted by all parties that statutory interest amounted to only 24% of Littlewoods’ actual time value loss from the relevant overpayments. There are many cases stood behind this case, so it was important for both taxpayers and HMRC.

Decision

The Supreme Court rejected Littlewoods’ claim for compound interest of circa £1.25 billion on VAT repayments of £205 million for the years 1973 to 2004. The court held that the correct reading of the VAT Act is that it excludes common law claims and although references are made to interest otherwise available these are clearly references to interest under other statutory provisions and not the common law. To decide otherwise would render the limitations in the VAT Act otherwise meaningless. Further, it held that the lower courts were wrong to construe the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) requirement of an “adequate indemnity” as meaning “complete reimbursement”. The Supreme Court construed the term as “reasonable redress”.

The above reasoning was based on the following reasons:

  • They read the CJEU’s judgment as indicating that the simple interest already received by Littlewoods was adequate even though it was acknowledged to be only about 24% of its actual loss
  • It is the common practice among Member States to award simple interest with the repayment of tax. If the CJEU intended to outlaw that practice they would have said so
  • The reading “reasonable redress” is consistent with the CJEU’s prior and subsequent case law.

Implications

The Supreme Court ruling means that claims for compound interest in cases of official error cannot be pursued through a High Court claim. It would appear that, unless other appeals which are currently listed to be heard are successful, (extremely unlikely given the comments of the Supreme Court) this is the end of the road for compound interest claims.

History of the overpayment
During the period with which this case is concerned, the claimants Littlewoods carried on catalogue sales businesses. It distributed catalogues to customers and sold them goods shown in the catalogues. In order to carry on its businesses, it employed agents, who received a commission in return for their services. They could elect to be paid the commission either in cash or in kind. Commission was paid in cash at the rate of 10% of the sales achieved by the agent. Commission paid in kind took the form of goods supplied by Littlewoods, equal in price to 12.5% of the sales achieved by the agent.
As suppliers of goods, Littlewoods were obliged to account to HMRC for the VAT due in respect of their chargeable supplies. Between 1973 and 2004, they accounted for VAT on the supplies which it made to its agents, as commission paid in kind, on the basis that the taxable amount of those supplies was reduced by the enhancement in the commission, that is to say by 2.5%. On a correct understanding of VAT law, the taxable amount of the supplies was actually reduced by the entire 12.5% which constituted the agents’ commission. Consequently, Littlewoods accounted for and paid more VAT to HMRC than was due.

VAT: The ECJ decides that bridge is NOT a sport

By   October 27, 2017

The English Bridge Union Limited (EBU) case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By   October 17, 2017

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

Technical Background

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

The distinction is important for two main reasons:

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

The difference between HP and Leasing arrangements:

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

Case Background

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

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

Decision

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

VAT Impact

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

Commentary

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

VAT HMRC Updates

By   October 12, 2017

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

Full details here And a brief summary below:

VAT manuals

VAT Land and Property/Construction

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

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

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

VAT Education

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

New and revised VAT Notices

702: imports

701/49: finance

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

700/58: treatment of VAT repayment returns and supplements

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

714: zero rating young children’s clothing and footwear

New VAT Information Sheets and Revenue and Customs Briefs

VAT Information Sheets

Revenue and Customs Briefs

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

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

By   October 9, 2017

Latest from the courts

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

Background

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

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

Technical background

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

Note 16

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

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

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

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

Note 17

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

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

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

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

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

The Appeal

The Trustees appealed on two separate and distinct bases:

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

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

Decision

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

Commentary

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

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

Additionally, our offering to the construction industry here

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

By   October 4, 2017

Latest from the courts – Appellant on thin ice?

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

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

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

Background

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

Decision

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

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

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

 Commentary

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

VAT: Latest from the courts – partial exemption attribution

By   October 4, 2017

In court about courts…

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

Background

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

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

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

The decision

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

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

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

Commentary

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