Category Archives: Start Up

VAT: Output tax on credits? A Tax point case

By   September 18, 2017

Latest from the courts

In the Scottish Court of Session case of Findmypast Limited the issue was whether the sale of credits represented a taxable supply, the tax point of which was when payment was received.

Background

Findmypast carries on a business of providing access to genealogical and ancestry websites which it owns or for which it holds a licence. If a customer wishes to view or download most of the records on the website, they will be required to make a payment. This may be done by taking out a subscription for a fixed period, which confers unlimited use of the records during that period. Alternatively, the customer may use a system known as Pay As You Go. This involves the payment of a lump sum in return for which the customer receives a number of “credits”. The credits may be used to view records on the website, and each time a record is viewed some of the credits are used up. The credits are only valid for a fixed period, but unused credits may be revived if the customer purchases further credits within two years; otherwise they are irrevocably lost.

Technical

Findmypast accounted for output tax on the price of the credits at the time when they were sold.  As a consequence, VAT was paid, not only on credits which were used, but also on credits that were not redeemed (The tax point therefore similar to the current rules on the sale of single use face value vouchers. Rules here).

The taxpayer claimed repayment of the VAT accounted for on the sale of unredeemed vouchers during a period which ran up to May 2012 when the legislation was changed.

The question was whether output tax should have been accounted for at the time when the vouchers were sold or at the time the vouchers were redeemed. If the tax point was the date of redemption, then the claim would be valid. The court identified the following issues:

  • What is the nature of the supply made by the taxpayer to customers?
    • Was it was the supply of genealogical records selected by the customer and viewed or downloaded by them?
    • Or was the supply a package of rights and services, which conferred a right to search the records and download and print items from the taxpayer’s websites?

If the former is accurate, the supply only takes place if and when a particular record is viewed or downloaded.  If the latter, the supply includes a general right to search which is exercisable as soon as the credits are purchased, with the result that the supply takes place at that point.

A subtle distinction, but one which has an obviously big VAT impact.

Decision

The Court decided that where credits were not redeemed, the taxpayer is entitled to be repaid the output tax previously declared as no tax point was created. In the Court’s view, Findmypast was making the relevant documents available in return for payments received. HMRC’s contention that there was a complex, multiple supply of the facility to find and access genealogical documents such that payment created a tax point was dismissed. The court further found that the relevant payments did not qualify as prepayments (deposits) because it was not known at the time of purchase whether the credits would be redeemed (many were not) or indeed at what time they would be redeemed if they were.  It was also decided that the credits were not Face Value Vouchers per VAT Act 1994, Schedule 10A, paragraph 1(1) as they are rather mere credits that permit the customer to view and download particular documents on the taxpayer’s website, through the operation of the taxpayer’s accounting system.  And that they are not purchased for their own sake but as a means to view or download documents.

Commentary

Readers of my past articles will have identified that multiple/single supplies and tax points create have been hot topics recently, and this is the latest chapter in the story.

This case highlights that any payments received by a business must be analysed closely and the actual nature of them determined according to the legislation and case law. Not all payments received create a tax point and

Some will not represent consideration such that output tax is due. Careful consideration of the tax point rules is necessary.  Not only can the correct application of the rules aid cashflow, but in certain circumstances (such as set out in this case) it is possible to avoid paying VAT on receipts at all.

VAT – Do as HMRC say…. and if you do… they may still penalise you!

By   September 13, 2017

Can you rely on a VAT ruling received from HMRC when they have been provided with full information in writing?

You would like to think so wouldn’t you? And in the past, you have been able to.

However, the long standing protection from assessments for deemed underdeclared VAT as a result of incorrect advice or actions by HMRC has been withdrawn. This was commonly known as “Sheldon Statement” protection. HMRC now state that there are some circumstances in which their primary duty is to collect tax according to the statute and it may mean that they can no longer be bound by advice they have given.  Despite all the publicity of their National Help Line and Advice Centre, plus the clearance procedures introduced to assist taxpayers with their obligations, HMRC can still renege on their advice! Even if you are fortunate enough to actually get a decision from HMRC (which is increasingly difficult and frustrating) you can’t necessarily rely on it. This is the case even if you have provided full information in writing (as required) and made a comprehensive disclosure of your position.

This makes it even more important to avoid errors and the increased risk of VAT penalties and interest. Details of the penalty regime here

This leaves the question as to whom businesses can rely on for accurate, cost effective VAT saving advice and guidance on getting VAT right?  The answer, clearly, is to contact their friendly local VAT consultant…

The Default Surcharge for late VAT payments

By   September 5, 2017

A Default Surcharge is a civil penalty issued by HMRC to “encourage” businesses to submit their VAT returns and pay the tax due on time.

VAT registered businesses are required by law to submit their return and make the relevant payment of the VAT by the due date.

A default occurs if HMRC has not received your return and all the VAT due by the due date. The relevant date is the date that cleared funds reach HMRC’s bank account. If the due date is not a working day, payment must be received on the last preceding working day.

Payments on Account (POA)

If a business is required to make POA it must pay them and the balance due with the VAT Return by electronic transfer direct to HMRC’s bank account. The due dates for POA are the last working day of the second and third month of every quarterly accounting period. The due date for the balancing payment is the date shown on the business’ VAT Return. It is important to ensure that payments are cleared to HMRC’s bank by these dates or there will be a default.

Consequence of default

A business will receive a warning after the first default ‐ the Surcharge Liability Notice (SLN). Do not ignore this notice. If you fail to pay the VAT due on the due date within the next five quarters, the surcharge will be 2% of the outstanding tax. The surcharge increases to 5% for the next default, and then by 5% increments to a maximum of 15%.  Each default, whether it is late submission of the return or late payment, extends the surcharge liability period, but only late payment incurs a surcharge.

If you can’t pay the VAT you owe by the due date or are having difficulties, contact the Business Payment Support Service immediately.

Special arrangements for small businesses

There are special arrangements if a business’ taxable turnover is £150,000 or less to help if there are short term difficulties paying VAT on time. HMRC send a letter offering help and support rather than a Surcharge Liability Notice the first time there is a default. This aims to assist with any short-term difficulties before a business formally enters the Default Surcharge system. If the business defaults again within the following 12 months a Surcharge Liability Notice will be issued.

Minimum surcharges

There is a minimum of £30 for surcharges calculated at the 10% or 15% rates. There will not be a surcharge at the 2% and 5% rates if it is calculated it to be less than £400. However, a Surcharge Liability Notice Extension extending the surcharge period will be issued and the rate of surcharge if you default again within the surcharge period will be increased.

Circumstances when HMRC will not levy a surcharge

There’s no liability to surcharge if a business:

  • submits a nil or repayment return late
  • pays the VAT due on time but submit your return late

HMRC will not issue a surcharge in these circumstances because there is no late payment involved. If a business had defaulted previously HMRC will issue a Surcharge Liability Notice Extension extending the surcharge period because the return is late, but they will not increase the rate of surcharge.

Time limit

A business’ liability to surcharge will expire if a business submits all of its returns and payments for tax periods ending on or before the end of the surcharge liability period on time.

Reasonable excuse

If a business has a reasonable excuse for failing to pay on time, and it remedies this failure without unreasonable delay after the excuse ends, it will not be liable to a surcharge.

There’s no statutory definition of reasonable excuse and it will depend on the particular circumstances of a case. A reasonable excuse is something that prevented the business meeting a tax obligation on time which it took reasonable care to meet. The decision on whether a reasonable excuse exists depends upon the particular circumstances in which the failure occurred. There is a great deal of case law on this particular issue. Please contact us should there be doubt about a reasonable excuse.

Disagreement over a surcharge

If you disagree with a decision that you are liable to surcharge or how the amount of surcharge has been calculated, it is possible to:

  • ask HMRC to review your case
  • have your case heard by the Tax Tribunal

If you ask for a review of a case, a business will be required to write to HMRC within 30 days of the date the Surcharge Liability Notice Extension was sent. The letter should give the reasons why you disagree with the decision.

Examples when a review may be appropriate are if a business considers that:

  • it has a reasonable excuse for the default
  • HMRC applied the wrong rate of surcharge
  • HMRC used the wrong amount of VAT when calculating the surcharge
  • there are exceptional circumstances which mean the default should be removed

A business will still be able to appeal to the Tribunal if it disagrees with the outcome of the HMRC review.

We are very experienced in dealing with disputes over Default Surcharges, so if you feel that one has been applied unfairly, or wish to explore your rights, please let us know.

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 EU Claims – A Reminder

By   August 9, 2017

Refunds of VAT for UK businesses incurring other EC Member States

If a business incurs VAT in another EC Member State it is possible to recover it.  It is not claimed on a UK VAT return, but via a special claim procedure.  Details of how this process works and what may be claimed are set out in my previous article

The deadline for these claims is 30 September 2017.

Any applicant must not be registered or registrable in the Member State from which they are claiming a refund, nor must they have a permanent business establishment in that EU country. There are a number of other rules to be considered as well, so it pays to ensure that the claim is valid before time and effort is expended in compiling a claim.  We are happy to advise on this.

Applications relating to VAT incurred in the year 2016 must be submitted by 30th September 2017 and there is no leeway to extend this deadline.

 

Incoterms. What are they, how can they be of use for VAT?

By   August 3, 2017
VAT – Cross border sales of goods

Incoterms stands for International Commercial Terms. These are published by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and describe agreed commercial terms. These rules set out the responsibilities of buyers and sellers for the supply of goods under a contract. They are very commonly used in cross-border commercial transactions in order that both sides in a transaction are aware of the contractual position. They help businesses avoid costly misunderstandings by clarifying the tasks, costs and risks involved in the delivery of goods from sellers to buyers. The latest terms were published in 2010 and came into effect in 2011.

The use of Incoterms for assistance for VAT purposes

One of the most difficult areas of providing VAT advice is obtaining sufficient detailed information to advise accurately and comprehensively.  Quite often advisers are given what a client believes to be the arrangements for a transaction. This may differ from the actual facts, or the understanding of the other party in the transaction.

Pragmatically, this uncertainty about the details may be increased if; a number of different people within an organisation are involved, it is a new or one-off type of transaction, there are language difficulties, or communication and documentation is less than ideal. In such cases, incoterms will provide invaluable information which gives clarity and certainty and usually give a sound basis on which to advise. This enables the adviser to establish the place of supply (POS) and therefore what VAT treatment needs to be applied.

So what is this set of pre-defined international contract terms?

They are 11 pre-defined terms which are subdivided into two categories:

Group 1 – Incoterms that apply to any mode of transport are:

EXW – Ex Works (named place)

The seller makes the goods available at their premises. This term places the maximum obligation on the buyer and minimum obligations on the seller. EXW means that a buyer incurs the risks for bringing the goods to their final destination. The buyer arranges the pickup of the freight from the supplier’s designated ship site, owns the in-transit freight, and is responsible for clearing the goods through Customs. The buyer is also responsible for completing all the export documentation.

Most jurisdictions require companies to provide proof of export for VAT purposes. In an EXW shipment, the buyer is under no obligation to provide such proof, or indeed to even export the goods. It is therefore of utmost importance that these matters are discussed with the buyer before the contract is agreed.

FCA – Free Carrier (named place of delivery)

The seller delivers the goods, cleared for export, at a named place. This can be to a carrier nominated by the buyer, or to another party nominated by the buyer.

It should be noted that the chosen place of delivery has an impact on the obligations of loading and unloading the goods at that place. If delivery occurs at the seller’s premises, the seller is responsible for loading the goods on to the buyer’s carrier. However, if delivery occurs at any other place, the seller is deemed to have delivered the goods once their transport has arrived at the named place; the buyer is responsible for both unloading the goods and loading them onto their own carrier.

CPT – Carriage Paid To (named place of destination)

The seller pays for the carriage of the goods up to the named place of destination. Risk transfers to buyer upon handing goods over to the first carrier at the place of shipment in the country of Export. The Shipper is responsible for origin costs including export clearance and freight costs for carriage to named place (usually a destination port or airport). The shipper is not responsible for delivery to the final destination (generally the buyer’s facilities), or for buying insurance. If the buyer does require the seller to obtain insurance, the Incoterm CIP should be considered.

CIP – Carriage and Insurance Paid to (named place of destination)

This term is broadly similar to the above CPT term, with the exception that the seller is required to obtain insurance for the goods while in transit. CIP requires the seller to insure the goods for 110% of their value.

DAT – Delivered At Terminal (named terminal at port or place of destination)

This term means that the seller covers all the costs of transport (export fees, carriage, unloading from main carrier at destination port and destination port charges) and assumes all risk until destination port or terminal. The terminal can be a Port, Airport, or inland freight interchange. Import duty/VAT/customs costs are to be borne by the buyer.

DAP – Delivered At Place (named place of destination)

The seller is responsible for arranging carriage and for delivering the goods, ready for unloading from the arriving conveyance, at the named place. Duties are not paid by the seller under this term. The seller bears all risks involved in bringing the goods to the named place.

DDP – Delivered Duty Paid (named place of destination)

The seller is responsible for delivering the goods to the named place in the country of the buyer, and pays all costs in bringing the goods to the destination including import duties and VAT. The seller is not responsible for unloading. This term places the maximum obligations on the seller and minimum obligations on the buyer. With the delivery at the named place of destination all the risks and responsibilities are transferred to the buyer and it is considered that the seller has completed his obligations.

Group 2 – Incoterms that apply to sea and inland waterway transport only:

FAS – Free Alongside Ship (named port of shipment)

The seller delivers when the goods are placed alongside the buyer’s vessel at the named port of shipment. This means that the buyer has to bear all costs and risks of loss of or damage to the goods from that moment. The FAS term requires the seller to clear the goods for export. However, if the parties wish the buyer to clear the goods for export, this should be made clear by adding explicit wording to this effect in the contract of sale. This term can be used only for sea or inland waterway transport.

FOB – Free On Board (named port of shipment)

FOB means that the seller pays for delivery of goods to the vessel including loading. The seller must also arrange for export clearance. The buyer pays cost of marine freight transport, insurance, unloading and transport cost from the arrival port to destination. The buyer arranges for the vessel, and the shipper must load the goods onto the named vessel at the named port of shipment. Risk passes from the seller to the buyer when the goods are loaded aboard the vessel.

CFR – Cost and Freight (named port of destination)

The seller pays for the carriage of the goods up to the named port of destination. Risk transfers to buyer when the goods have been loaded on board the ship in the country of export. The shipper is responsible for origin costs including export clearance and freight costs for carriage to named port. The shipper is not responsible for delivery to the final destination from the port (generally the buyer’s facilities), or for buying insurance. CFR should only be used for non-containerised sea freight, for all other modes of transport it should be replaced with CPT.

CIF – Cost, Insurance and Freight (named port of destination)

This term is broadly similar to the above CFR term, with the exception that the seller is required to obtain insurance for the goods while in transit to the named port of destination. CIF requires the seller to insure the goods for 110% of their. CIF should only be used for non-containerised sea freight; for all other modes of transport it should be replaced with CIP.

 Allocations of costs to buyer/seller via incoterms

Summary Chart

Incoterms Chart

 

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!”

 Summary

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: More on agent/principal – Latest from the courts

By   July 3, 2017

Lowcost Holidays Ltd

There is a very important distinction in VAT terms between agent and principal as it dictates whether output tax is due on the entire amount received by a “middle-man” or just the amount which the middle-man retains (usually a commission). It is common for the relationship between parties to be open to interpretation and thus create VAT uncertainty in many transactions.

It appears to me that this uncertainty has increased as a result of the growing amount of on-line sales and different parties being involved in a single sale.

By way of background, I looked at this issue at the end of last year here

The case

On a similar theme, the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of Lowcost Holidays Ltd the issue was whether the Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme (TOMS) applied to Lowcost’s activities.

Background

Lowcost was a travel agent offering holiday accommodation in ten other EU Member States, and other countries outside the EU, for the most part to customers based in the UK. The issue between the parties is whether Lowcost provided holiday accommodation to customers as a principal, dealing in its own name, under article 306 of Directive 2006/112, the Principal VAT Directive and therefore came within TOMS or whether it acted solely as an intermediary or agent (in which case TOMS would not apply and the general Place Of Supply rules apply).

Decision

The FTT found in favour of the appellant. HMRC had argued that Lowcost was buying and selling travel and accommodation as principal, however, the FTT decided that the contracts which Lowcost entered into with; hotels, transport providers and holidaymakers were clear that the arrangement was for the appellant acting as agent. The helpful Supreme Court case of SecretHotels2 (which I commented on here) was applied in this case. The main point being that the nature of a supply is to be determined by the construction of the contract – unless it is a ‘sham’ and great weight was given to the terms of Lowcost’s contracts rather than what HMRC often call the “economic reality”.  Specifically highlighted to the court was the fact that Lowcost set the prices for the holidays, which HMRC pointed out would be inconsistent with an agency arrangement. The FTT decided that this was outweighed by the actual terms of the contracts.

Consequently, as Lowcost acted as agent (for the providers of the services not the holidaymaker) the Place Of Supply was determined by reference to where the supply was received under the general rule.  In this case, this is VAT free when the services were received by principals located outside the UK.

As with all TOMS and agent/principal matters it really does pay to obtain professional advice.

VAT – Business Entertainment Flowchart. What input tax may I recover?

By   June 26, 2017

VAT – Recovery of input tax incurred on entertainment

One of the most common questions asked on “day-to-day” VAT is whether input tax incurred on entertainment is claimable.  The answer to this seemingly straightforward question has become increasingly complex as a result of; HMRC policy, EC involvement and case law.

Different rules apply to entertaining; clients, contacts, staff, partners and directors depending on the circumstances.  It seems reasonable to treat entertaining costs as a valid business expense.  After all, a business, amongst other things, aims to increase sales and reduce costs as a result of these meetings.  However, HMRC sees things differently and there is a general block on business entertainment.  It seems like HMRC does not like watching people enjoying themselves at the government’s expense!

If, like me, you think in pictures, then a flowchart may be useful for deciding whether to claim entertainment VAT.  It covers all scenarios, but if you have a unique set of circumstances or require assistance with some of the definitions, please contact me.

We have recently carried out a series of presentations, which, amongst other subjects, covered business entertainment. Should you require VAT training or presentations, don’t forget our comprehensive service here which can be tailored to your needs.

VAT -Business Entertainment Flowchart

Business Entertainment flow chart

Download here: VAT Business Entertainment Input tax recovery flowchart