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.

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