Category Archives: Uncategorized

VAT – A Christmas Tale

By   December 12, 2016
Well, it is Christmas….

Dear Marcus

My business, if that is what it is, has become large enough for me to fear that HMRC might take an interest in my activities.  May I explain what I do and then you can write to me with your advice?  If you think a face to face meeting would be better I can be found in most decent sized department stores from mid September to 24 December.

First of all I am based in Greenland but I do bring a stock of goods, mainly toys, to the UK and I distribute them.  Am I making supplies in the UK?

The toys are of course mainly for children and I wonder if zero rating might apply?  I have heard that small T shirts are zero rated so what about a train set – it is small and intended for children. Does it matter if adults play with it?

My friend Rudolph has told me that there is a peculiar rule about gifts.  He says that if I give them away regularly and they cost more than £150 I might have to account for VAT.  Is that right?

My next question concerns barter transactions.  Dads often leave me a food item such as a mince pie and a drink and there is an unwritten rule that I should then leave something in return.  If I’m given Tesco’s own brand sherry I will leave polyester underpants but if I’m left a glass of Glenfiddich I will be more generous and leave best woollen socks.  Have I made a supply and what is the value please?  My feeling is that the food items are not solicited so VAT might not be due and, in any event; isn’t food zero-rated, or is it catering? Oh, and what if the food is hot?

Transport is a big worry for me.  Lots of children ask me for a ride on my airborne transport.  I suppose I could manage to fit 12 passengers in.  Does that mean my services are zero-rated?  If I do this free of charge will I need to charge air passenger duty?  Does it matter if I stay within the UK?  My transport is the equivalent of six horse power and if I refuel with fodder in the UK will I be liable for fuel scale charges?  After dropping the passengers off I suppose I will be accused of using fuel for the private journey back home.  Somebody has told me that if I buy hay labelled as animal food I can avoid VAT but if I buy the much cheaper bedding hay I will need to pay VAT.  Please comment.

Can I also ask about VAT registration?  I know the limit is £83,000 per annum but do blips count?  If I do make supplies at all, I do nothing for 364 days and then, in one day (well night really) I blast through the limit and then drop back to nil turnover.  May I be excused from registration?  If I do need to register should I use AnNOEL Accounting?  At least I can get only one penalty per annum if I get the sums wrong.

I would like to make a claim for input tax on clothing.  I feel that my red clothing not only protects me from the extreme cold but it is akin to a uniform and should be allowable.  These are not clothes that I would choose to wear except for my fairly unusual job.  If lady barristers can claim for black skirts I think I should be able to claim for red dress.  And what about my annual haircut?  That costs a fortune.  I only let my hair grow that long because it is expected of me.

Insurance worries me too.  You know that I carry some very expensive goods on my transport.  Play Stations, Mountain Bikes, i-pads and Accrington Stanley replica shirts for example.  My parent company in Greenland takes out insurance there and they make a charge to me.  If I am required to register for VAT in England will I need to apply the reverse charge?  This seems to be a daft idea if I understand it correctly.  Does it mean I have to charge myself VAT on something that is not VATable and then claim it back again?

Next you’ll be telling me that Father Christmas isn’t real……….


VAT – The “business” of shooting; a tale

By   July 15, 2016

shoot (2)Sometimes one is involved in a dispute which goes to the core of the tax.  This is a case which highlights basic VAT principles, HMRC’s approach to an issue and the lengths to which a taxpayer has to go to defend his position.

Are you sitting comfortably?

A day out in the countryside; striding across beautiful landscape, amongst friends, enjoying each other’s’ company and a bit of sport – can this really be the subject of such intense debate with HMRC? Well, unfortunately this seems to be the case when it comes to the operation of a day’s shooting. In the eyes of the taxman, whether or not a profit or a surplus is achieved, shooting, conducted in the course of furtherance of a business is subject to VAT.

This is not usually an issue which shooting syndicates find themselves having to address; they are not concerned with the ins and outs of what constitutes a business for the purposes of the VAT legislation. However, HMRC was pursuing this issue in earnest and they have a team devoted solely to attacking shoots.

Who is HMRC targeting?

HMRC seem to be focusing on syndicate run shoots which are not registered for VAT but who HMRC believe are operating on business principles. If an organisation is operating as a business then it may be liable to register for VAT if certain income thresholds are exceeded. The shoot will then have to charge output VAT on the supplies it makes.  In my case there would have been a significant assessment plus penalties and interest which could double the past VAT bill.

How is HMRC attacking the issue?

HMRC is looking closely at the specific activities of syndicate shoots in order to build an argument demonstrating that the organisation of the shoot is run on “sound business principles”.  The reason that there is room for debate on this matter is that what constitutes a business is not explicitly defined anywhere in the VAT legislation either in UK or EC law. Rather, the issue has been defined in case law.

The defining case was Lord Fisher, which co-incidentally also concerned a shoot. This case is relied upon throughout the VAT world to give guidance on what constitutes a business – and not just in respect of shoots but for all types of activity.

Anyway, back to this syndicate…

I was involved in a battle lasting four years which concerned a local shoot run for over five decades by a group of friends and which was provided only for the benefit of the syndicate members. The shoot was not open to the common commercial market place or members of the public and the shoot did not advertise. HMRC spent a great deal of time trying to understand the finer details of the running of this shoot and concluded that it was a business

We advised The Shoot to appeal to the VAT Tribunal against HMRC’s decision to levy VAT on its activities.

They key to the syndicate’s defence was to demonstrate that no true business would operate commercially in the way that The Shoot does.  If it did, it would be completely unprofitable and would soon be out of business. To demonstrate this effectively, every aspect of the shoot was examined in detail and compared and contrasted with the way a commercial shoot operates. This involved everything from the lunch arrangements, CVs of the gamekeepers and how beautiful the land is, right through to whether chicks or poults are purchased and whether local deer were sold to the highest bidder. However, the most important factor was the demonstration that the syndicate does not have a profit built in to the cost structure and the amounts that the syndicate members contribute. The syndicate is run on a cost sharing basis and is not “an activity likely to be carried out by a private undertaking on a market, organised within a professional framework and generally performed in the interest of generating a profit.”

It all sounds so simple to those familiar with the industry but unfortunately from a VAT ‘business’ perspective it has been a long, stressful and costly argument for the appellant to make.  A few days before the case was to be heard at the Tribunal, HMRC withdrew their assessment and conceded the case.

HMRC had seen the many witness statements filed by the members of the syndicate waxing lyrical about how this was an age-old hobby run by a few friends and in no way could it be considered a commercial business. They had seen the expert witness report written by a specialist in the field. The distinctions made between commercial and syndicate shooting were made very clear. They had also seen the powerful argument which concluded that the shoot “cannot seriously be suggested to amount to a ‘business’ for the purpose of the VAT code”.

What this means?

Of course this victory over HMRC was a fantastic result for the members of the The Shoot, but from a practical point of view quite frustrating in that the case was not heard; denying other entities the benefit of the predicted victory.  Alas, it was one case that HMRC could not afford to lose.

It is therefore likely that HMRC will continue to target other shoots where they think they can ‘win’ or at least not be challenged.

Have you been affected? – What should you do next?

If this makes for frighteningly familiar reading and you or your local syndicate shoot are, or have been, under HMRC investigation then it is vital that you should take professional advice.  As we orchestrated the defence for The Shoot we are the leading advisers in such matters.

 For completeness, the six tests derived from the Lord Fisher case (and others) are: 
  1. Is the activity a serious undertaking earnestly pursued?
  2. Is the activity an occupation or function, which is actively pursued with reasonable or recognisable continuity?
  3. Does the activity have a certain measure of substance in terms of the quarterly or annual value of taxable supplies made?
  4. Is the activity conducted in a regular manner and on sound and recognised business principles?
  5. Is the activity predominantly concerned with the making of taxable supplies for a consideration?
  6. Are the taxable supplies that are being made of a kind which, subject to differences of detail, are commonly made by those who seek to profit from them?
 The recent case of Lajvér Meliorációs Nonprofit Kft. and Lajvér Csapadékvízrendezési Nonprofit Kft is also helpful in looking at what a business is details here


The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) – A Warning

By   February 25, 2016

The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS)

Alcohol warehouse

HMRC has introduced AWRS in order to tackle what it perceives to be significant alcohol fraud.  If a business sells alcohol to another business it may need to apply to register for the scheme. HMRC will also, at the time of application, make a decision on whether the relevant person is “fit and proper” to trade wholesale.  If it is not, it will be not be permitted to trade at all.

If a business is an existing alcohol wholesaler, or a person starts a new business before 1 April 2016, it is required to apply online for registration between 1 January 2016 and 31 March 2016.  This is very important since new criminal and civil sanctions will be introduced for both wholesalers and trade buyers caught purchasing alcohol from non-registered wholesalers.  Penalties for wholesalers trading without having submitted their application to HMRC will start from 1 April 2016. Penalties for trade buyers who buy alcohol from unregistered wholesalers will start from 1 April 2017. Any alcohol found in the premises of unregistered businesses may be seized whether or not the duty has been paid.

If a new business is started after 31 March 2016, it must apply for registration at least 45 days before it intends to start trading.  It must wait until it gets approval from HMRC before it starts trading.

From 1 April 2017, if a business buys alcohol to sell from a UK wholesaler, it will need to check that whoever it buys from has registered with HMRC and has an AWRS Unique Reference Number (URN). HMRC will provide an online look up service so that trade buyers can ensure the wholesalers they buy from are registered

Who needs to apply to register for AWRS?

A business must apply for approval if it is established in the UK and supplies alcohol to other businesses at, or after, the point at which Excise Duty becomes due by either:

  • selling – this includes to other businesses as well as to the general public
  • arranging the sale
  • offering or exposing for sale

Reminder: If a business is affected by AWRS it will have to apply for it or face penalties for trading without approval.

This flowchart should be of assistance in determining whether a business is required to register for AWRS.

Exclusions to the scheme

  • If a business only sells alcohol to the general public and not to other businesses it will not need to apply
  • Also, the scheme doesn’t apply to individuals purchasing alcohol from retailers for their own use.
  • Businesses which are mainly retailers, but unknowingly or unintentionally make occasional trade sales of alcohol are excluded from AWRS.  This can happen if the purchaser is unknown to a business and the only indication you might have that the purchase is being made for commercial purposes is if a tax invoice is requested.  These sales are known as ‘incidental sales’.
  • Wholesale sales of alcohol between members of the same corporate group are excluded from the scheme and there is no need to register for AWRS to cover these sales (however, if wholesale sales are made outside of the corporate group the companies involved in those sales will need to register).

This incidental sales exemption decision making flowchart will be of assistance.

How to apply for registration

You should apply online using the AWRS service.  You’ll need to have a Government Gateway ID to apply.


 We advise that a business prepares for registration by:

  • ensuring its business records are in order and accessible
  • reviewing its processes and supply chains to ensure that it is sourcing only legitimate alcohol
  • introducing a corporate due diligence policy and procedures to prevent involvement in the illicit market

We can assist with any aspect of this preparation.


HMRC has announced that because of the large number of applications which are expected, it might be several months before you’re given a decision.  So a business has a tight deadline, but HMRC has excused itself from dealing with applications in a timely manner.


When HMRC receive an application they will check it has been completed correctly. If it’s incomplete or unclear HMRC won’t process it until the missing details have been provided.  HMRC will then look at whether the business is ‘fit and proper’ to trade wholesale.

If a business fails the ‘fit and proper’ test, HMRC will remove the right to trade in wholesale alcohol.

If approved by HMRC, a business will receive an AWRS unique reference number (URN).  The format for the URN will be made up of 4 alpha characters and 11 numeric characters, such as: XXAW00000123456.  From 1 April 2017 registered wholesalers will need to include this on wholesale sales invoices.

Another burden for businesses I am afraid, but it is understandable considering the likely amount of tax lost in alcohol fraud.  Please contact us should you have any queries on this matter.

VAT Taxable Supply – Basic Definition

By   February 5, 2016

VAT Back To Basics bar-code-24157_960_720

It is sometimes useful when considering a transaction to “go back to basics” for VAT purposes. There are four tests to determine whether a supply is taxable and these are set out below.  Broadly, these tests establish whether UK VAT is payable on a sale.

A transaction is within the scope of UK VAT if all four of the following are satisfied.

  1. It is a supply of goods or services.

There is a distinction between the two types of supply as different VAT treatments may apply.  However, if no goods are services are actually provided, there is no supply.  Indeed, if there is no consideration for a supply, in most cases it is not a taxable supply.

2. It takes place in the UK.

There are quite complex tests to consider when analysing the “place of supply”, especially where services are concerned.  If the place of supply is outside the UK then usually no UK VAT is due, however, the supply may be subject to VAT in another country.

3. It is made by a taxable person.

A taxable person is any legal entity which is, or should be, registered for VAT in the UK.

4. It is made in the course or furtherance of any business carried on by that person

The term “business” is only used in UK legislation, The Principal VAT Directive refers to “economic activity” rather than “business” and since UK domestic legislation must conform to the Directive both terms must be seen as having the same meaning.  Since the very first days of VAT there have been disagreements over what constitutes a “business”. I have only recently ended a dispute over this definition for a (as it turns out) very happy client.  The tests were set out as long ago as 1981 and may be summarised as follows:

So, if the four tests are passed a taxable supply exists.  The next step is often to establish which VAT rate applies!

Tip: It is often easier to consider what isn’t a taxable supply to establish the correct VAT treatment.  Specific examples of situations which are not taxable supplies are; donations, certain free supplies of services, certain grants or funding, some compensation and some transactions which are specifically excluded from the tax by legislation, eg; transfers of going concerns.

I think that it is often the case that the basic building blocks of the tax are overlooked, especially in complex situations and I find it helps to “go back to the first page” sometimes!

Monthly VAT Round-Up

By   January 29, 2016

update (2)We produce a free monthly email update on all VAT things great and small. It covers events for the last month and flags up significant changes as a result of changes to legislation, HMRC announcements and case law. It also looks at specific VAT issues that may affect a business.

Please contact us you would like to subscribe.

07748 117935

Twitter: @mw_vat

Linked In; Marcus Ward

Linked In Group – Marcus Ward Consultancy VAT


By   September 11, 2015

MASTER LOGO - LARGE:Layout 1Marcus Ward Consultancy Ltd is pleased to announce the acquisition of the professional services practice of the consultancy called: VATAdvice.  This longstanding and highly regarded practice based in Cambridgeshire is owned by Les Howard a well-known face in the VAT world.  Les will continue his VAT support for charities and involvement with the Tax Tribunal.

Director Marcus Ward commented “There is a definite synergy between the two companies and I am pleased that I can continue to help Les’ clients with the highest level of service that I know they have been accustomed to.  This will expand the practice’s existing offering to accountancy and legal firms. We are able to continue to offer VAT advice in the specific areas of; land and property, international transactions, and not for profit bodies as well as dealing with any other VAT issues. We are happy that Les has chosen us to carry on looking after his numerous clients and we aim to make the handover as smooth as possible for all of them”.

Marcus Ward Consultancy Ltd was formed two years ago to help businesses through the increasingly complex VAT regime. It has grown quickly in London and East Anglia and has clients across the world. It is a professional practice committed to providing the highest quality indirect tax advice in a timely and understandable way.  It has expertise in both EC and UK legislation and over 25 years of indirect tax experience.

It is extremely commercially minded and works on the principle of “Leave VAT to us and you can concentrate on growing your business”.

It prides itself in defending businesses against unfair attacks from HMRC.


Telephone: 07748 117935


Some Odd VAT Facts

By   September 3, 2015

The weird side of VAT

Reagan_Facts_Stupid-300x300_editedWe all know that the VAT rules throw up some oddities which are mainly the result of new products, technology and the way people live their lives now. I do think that the law needs a significant, consistent overhaul rather than a piecemeal approach, but let’s just consider some of the weird results the present system throws up. This is a MOSS* for all tabloid journalists….

* Mini One-Stop Shop

An odd rule applies to gingerbread men. No VAT is charged if the figure has two chocolate spots for its eyes, but any chocolate-based additions, such as buttons or a belt, mean VAT is payable.

The sale of a horse is standard rated. However, the sale of a dead one (for horse meat) is zero rated. I wouldn’t really want to dwell on the VAT planning aspects of this…

A downloaded purchase of the bible is standard rated while “saucy” top shelf magazines are VAT free.

So that’s what it’s called….. From HMRC guidance – “For the purposes of establishing the place of supply of services, stallion nominations (The right to nominate a mare to be covered by a stallion in one breeding season) and the covering of mares is treated as ‘work carried out on goods’”.

Food for wild birds is zero rated while food for caged birds is at 20%.

Well, what do you know?! Jaffa cakes are cakes, Pringles are crisps and now Lucozade Sport is a beverage. That’s what the Upper Tribunal has ruled, so the drink is now subject to VAT. So now we know.

(And since this is VAT, we have to mention Jaffa cakes – again!) It was ruled as a fact that cakes go hard when stale whereas biscuits go soft.

Food that is too hot to eat can be classed as cold food for VAT purposes.

Orange juice is zero rated. Lemon juice is zero rated. Mix them, and you have a standard rated product.

Peanuts in shells are zero rated, salted peanuts are standard rated.

If your shop is burgled, it’s best to let the robbers take your stock. Goods lost to theft are not subject to VAT, but if cash (which customers have paid for goods) is taken from the till a VATable supply has still been made and VAT is due on it.

The sales of kangaroos are standard-rated but kangaroo steaks are zero-rated.

Rabbits are zero-rated, even if sold as pets. Sales of pets are standard rated.

The sales of counterfeit (illegal) goods are subject to 20% VAT, but the sale of counterfeit banknotes are not.

There was a planning scheme called the golden toothbrush, but it didn’t matter what colour the toothbrush was.

Ferret food has recently been ruled to be subject to 20% when it was VAT free from 1973.

Caviar is deemed a necessity in terms of VAT, while orange squash is a luxury item.

Buying a coffin is standard-rated but hiring a hearse is VAT free.

Children’s clothing with rabbit and gazelle fur (and even dog skin) is zero-rated but if it has Tibetan goat fur it is subject to VAT.

Tuition provided by a sole practitioner is exempt, but if the tutor incorporates then their supplies become standard-rated.

In the Spearmint Rhino case it was ruled that there is no VAT on lap dances.

Back Camera









Under some VAT schemes, zero rated and exempt supplies are subject to VAT (and even some which are “Outside the scope of UK VAT”).

Dog food for a poodle is subject to VAT but exactly the same food can be zero rated if it is for a Labrador.

– See more at:

Sponsorship – Please help

By   January 19, 2015


Please help to provide clean water to those that desperately need it in East Africa.

The lack of clean water means that people are dying.  The charity Dig Deep is trying to help as many people as possible.

How you can help: My daughter Isabel Ward is taking part in Dig Deep fundraising events and to help them continue the work to get clean water to those who need it most. Any small donation to help get to her £2,990 target would be greatly appreciated.

The event: Isabel is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for the charity in September 2015.


Isabel is currently a second year student at the University of Exeter studying English Literature. She has a strong passion for photography, yoga, running and anything literary based. As part of a large group from both the University of Exeter and Falmouth University, we are fundraising to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The trek will take approximately seven days; five up and two down!  She hopes to be doing some continual volunteer work in the local communities and see where our fundraising money will be going.  Please help to provide clean water to those that desperately need it in East Africa.

Isabel’s sponsorship page:

Dig Deep was set up in 2007 and helps to get clean water to communities in East Africa. They use current technology and methods to create a sustainable source of clean water, something that everyone deserves. By donating you’ll help for the equipment and teaching needed to help create and sustain clean and fresh water. Anything you can give will be greatly appreciated by myself and the people of East Africa.

Please Dig Deep!

Many thanks.