Tag Archives: charity-business

VAT: Doctors and healthcare professionals

By   January 29, 2018

VAT and Doctors

I have noticed that I am receiving more and more queries in this area and HMRC does appear to be taking an increased interest in healthcare entities. This is hardly surprising as it can be complex and there are some big numbers involved.

(This article refers to doctors, but applies equally to most healthcare professional entities.)

The majority of the services provided by doctors’ practices are VAT free. Good news one would think; no need to charge VAT and no need to deal with VAT records, returns and inspections.

However, there is one often repeated question from practices; “How can we reclaim the VAT we are charged?”

The first point to make is that if a practice only makes exempt supplies (of medical services) it is not permitted to register for VAT and consequently cannot recover any input tax. Therefore we must look at the types of supplies that a practice may make that are taxable (at the standard or zero rate). If any of these supplies are made it is possible to VAT register regardless of the value of them. Of course, if taxable supplies are made, the value of which exceeds the current turnover limit of £85,000 in a rolling 12-month period, registration is mandatory.

Examples of services and goods which may be taxable are:

  • Drugs, medicines or appliances that are dispensed by doctors to patients for self-administration
  • Dispensing drugs against an NHS prescription (zero-rated)
  • Drugs dispensed against private prescriptions (standard-rated)
  • Medico legal services that are predominately legal rather than medical – for example negotiating on behalf of a client or appearing in court in the capacity of an advocate
  • Clinical trials or market research services for drug companies that do not involve the care or assessment of a patient
  • Paternity testing
  • Certain rental of rooms/spaces
  • Car parking
  • Signing passport applications
  • Providing professional witness evidence
  • Any services which are not in respect of; the protection, maintenance or restoration of health of a patient.

So what does VAT registration mean?

Once you join the “VAT Club” you will be required to file a VAT return on a monthly of quarterly basis. You may have to issue certain documentation to patients/organisations to whom you make VATable supplies. You may need to charge VAT at 20% on some services. You will be able to reclaim VAT charged to you on purchases and other expenditure subject to partial exemption rules (see below). You will have to keep records in a certain way and your accounting system needs to be able to process specific information.

Because doctors usually provide services which attract varying VAT treatment, a practice will be required to attribute VAT incurred on expenditure (input tax) to each of these categories. Generally speaking, only VAT incurred in respect of zero-rated and standard-rated services may be recovered. In addition, there will always be input tax which is not attributable to any specific service and is “overhead” eg; property costs, professional fees, telephones etc. There is a set way in which the recoverable portion of this VAT is calculated. VAT registered entities which make both taxable and exempt supplies are deemed “partly exempt” and must carry out calculations on every VAT return.

Partial Exemption

Once the calculations described above have been carried out, the resultant amount of input tax which relates to exempt supplies is compared to the de-minimis limits (broadly; £625 per month VAT and not more than 50% of all input tax). If the figure is below these limits, all VAT incurred is recoverable regardless of what activities the practice is involved in.

VAT registration in summary


  • Recovery of input tax; the cost of which is not claimable in any other way
  • Potentially, recovery of VAT on items such as property, refurbishment and other expenditure that would have been unavailable prior to VAT registration
  • Only a small amount of VAT is likely to be chargeable by a practice
  • May provide opportunities for pre-registration VAT claims


  • Increased administration, paperwork and staff time
  • Exposure to VAT penalties and interest
  • May require VAT to be added to some services provided which were hitherto VAT free
  • Likely that only an element of input tax is recoverable as a result of partial exemption
  • Uncertainty on the VAT position of certain services due to current EU cases
  • Potential increased costs to the practice in respect of professional fees.

Please contact us if any of the above affects you or your clients.

VAT – A Christmas Tale

By   December 12, 2017
Well, it is Christmas…. and at Christmas tradition dictates that you repeat the same nonsense every year….
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?

If I do this for philanthropic reasons, am I a charity, and if so, does that mean I do not pay VAT?

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, or the EU?  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 £85,000 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 Simplification (We can but hope)

By   November 13, 2017

This month The Office Of Tax Simplification has published a document called “Value added tax: routes to simplification”. This includes 23 recommendations on how VAT may be simplified in the UK.   This is the first Office of Tax Simplification review to focus specifically on VAT and it takes a high level look at areas where simplification of either law or administration would be worthwhile.

The report specifically covers the following areas:

  • VAT registration threshold
  • VAT administration
  • Multiple rates
  • Partial exemption
  • Capital Goods Scheme
  • The option to tax
  • Special accounting schemes

The dominant issue that came out of the report is the level of turnover above which a business is required to pay VAT, known as the VAT threshold. At £85,000, the UK has the highest VAT threshold in the EU. The report considered a range of options for reform, in particular setting out the impact of either raising or lowering the threshold to avoid the current “cliff edge” position (many business restrict growth in order to avoid VAT registration, creating a “bunching” effect.  For example, lowering the threshold may create less drag on economic growth but would bring a larger number of businesses into the VAT system. Alternatively, a higher threshold could also result in less distortion but it would clearly raise less tax.


It was noted that since the introduction of VAT in the UK, the relevant legislation has grown so that it is now spread across 42 Acts of Parliament and 132 statutory instruments while still retaining some of the complexities of the pre-1973 UK purchase tax system.


The report notes that: unlike income taxes, the VAT system is largely prescribed by European Union rules, so Brexit may present an opportunity to consider areas which could be clarified, simplified, or just made easier. It is not clear at present how Brexit will unfold so this review does not embrace aspects of the VAT system which are part of the Brexit negotiations, such as financial services, or focus specifically on cross-border trade.


The summary of the 23 recommendations are reproduced here:

  1. The government should examine the current approach to the level and design of the VAT registration threshold, with a view to setting out a future direction of travel for the threshold, including consideration of the potential benefits of a smoothing mechanism.
  2. HMRC should maintain a programme for further improving the clarity of its guidance and its responsiveness to requests for rulings in areas of uncertainty.
  3. HMRC should consider ways of reducing the uncertainty and administrative costs for business relating to potential penalties when inaccuracies are voluntarily disclosed.
  4. HM Treasury and HMRC should undertake a comprehensive review of the reduced rate, zero-rate and exemption schedules, working with the support of the OTS.
  5. The government should consider increasing the partial exemption de minimis limits in line with inflation, and explore alternative ways of removing the need for businesses incurring insignificant amounts of input tax to carry out partial exemption calculations.
  6. HMRC should consider further ways to simplify partial exemption calculations and to improve the process of making and agreeing special method applications.
  7. The government should consider whether capital goods scheme categories other than for land and property are needed, and review the land and property threshold.
  8. HMRC should review the current requirements for record keeping and the audit trail for options to tax, and the extent to which this might be handled on-line.
  9. HMRC should establish a target to update guidance within a short, defined, period after a legal change or new policy takes effect.
  10. HMRC should explore ways to improve online guidance, making all current information accessible, and to gauge how often queries are answered by online guidance.
  11. HMRC should review options to reduce the uncertainty caused by the suspended penalty rules.
  12. HMRC should draw greater attention to the facility for extending statutory review and appeal time limits to enable local discussions to take place where appropriate.
  13. HMRC should consider ways in which statutory review teams can deepen engagement with business and adviser groups to increase confidence in the process, and for providing greater clarity about the availability and costs of alternative dispute resolution.
  14. HMRC should consider introducing electronic C79 import certificates.
  15. HMRC should consider options to streamline communications with businesses, including the process for making payments to non-established taxable persons.
  16. HMRC should looks at ways of enhancing its support to other parts of government (for example, in guidance) on VAT issues affecting their operations.
  17. HMRC should review its process for engaging with business and VAT practitioner groups to see if representation and effectiveness can be enhanced.
  18. HMRC should explore the possibility of listing zero-rated and reduced rate goods by reference to their customs code, drawing on the experience of other countries.
  19. HMRC should consider ways of ensuring partial exemption special methods are kept up to date, such as giving them a limited lifespan.
  20. The government should consider introducing a de minimis level for capital goods scheme adjustments to minimise administrative burdens.
  21. The government should consider the potential for increasing the TOMS de minimis limit and removing MICE businesses from TOMS.
  22. HMRC should consider updating the DIY House builder scheme to include clearer and more accessible guidance, increased time limits and recovery of VAT on professional services.
  23. HMRC should consider digitising the process for the recovery of VAT by overseas businesses not registered in the UK.

Next Steps

The Chancellor of the Exchequer must now respond to the advice given.


A lot of the areas identified have long been crying out for changes and the recommendations appear eminently sensible and long overdue. As an example, the partial exemption de minimis limit has been fixed at £7500 pa for 23 years and consequently the value of purchases it covers has reduced significantly with inflation.  A complete read of the report with prove rewarding as it confirms a lot of beliefs that advisers have long suspected and highlights areas the certainly do require simplification. I am particularly pleased that the complexities of both partial exemption and TOMS have been addressed. Fingers crossed that these recommendations are taken seriously by the government and the Chancellor takes this advice on-board. I am however, not holding my breath. It is anticipated that the early indications of the government’s thinking may be set out in the next Budget.

Is the Upper Tribunal bound by High Court decisions?

By   July 11, 2017

old baileyUpper Tribunal versus High Court

In the case of Meena Seddon Settlement which actually involved Inheritance Tax, the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) was required to decide whether the Upper Tribunal is bound by decisions made in the High Court. The FTT decision will doubtless affect VAT cases in the future.

It decided to follow a precedent set by the Upper Tribunal over an earlier decision by the High Court.

The taxpayer contended that the matter should be decided on the basis of a previous High Court decision. HMRC argued on the basis of a later Upper Tribunal decision. In normal circumstances, a later decision should take precedence over the earlier if both decisions have the same authority and have fully considered the previous judgments. However, if the taxpayer was correct to say that the Upper Tribunal was bound by precedents set by the High Court, the later decision could be disregarded as being wrong in law.

The FTT decided that it was the intention of Parliament that the Upper Tribunal was not bound to follow High Court precedents. This was notwithstanding the fact that a High Court could have a supervisory role over the Upper Tribunal in cases of judicial review. Therefore, it determined the case on the authority of the later Upper Tribunal decision in favour of HMRC.

VAT: Latest from the courts – are services by a CIC business?

By   May 19, 2017

This case considers the perpetual difficulty of deciding whether activities represent a business… or not.

In the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of Healthwatch Hampshire CIC (HH) here the issue was whether HH made taxable supplies by way of business to a Local Authority – Hampshire County Council (HCC)


Under certain prescribed new arrangements, local authorities, including HCC, were required to enter into contractual arrangements with a body corporate, which was required to be a social enterprise and a Community Interest Company (CIC) for the provision of various services.

These services comprised, inter alia:

  • Promoting, and supporting, the involvement of local people in the commissioning, provision and scrutiny of local care services
  • Information, signposting and advice
  • Advocacy services

HH is a company limited by guarantee but is not a charity. It is however non-profit making in its objectives, and any profits which do arise can only be spent for the benefit of the local community.  HH was formed by a consortium comprising; three organisations all of which are charities. These charities effectively carried out the work via a sub-contract arrangement and charged HH with the addition of VAT.  The issue is the VAT treatment of HH’s charge to HCC. Was this a business activity on which VAT is charged? Or, as HMRC contended, was the money paid to HH was outside the scope of VAT because it represented something which was not consideration for taxable supplies and thus non-business.

This was important as if the services provided by the CIC are deemed to be non-business, the VAT charged to HH by the three consortium members would represent an absolute VAT cost as it could not be VAT registered and therefore not able to recover the input tax.

Technical Note

Because of the special VAT rules which apply to local authorities, input tax incurred by them may be recovered if it relates to their non-business activities (their statutory activities). This is via VAT Act 1994, s33 and this legislation turns “normal” VAT rules on their head. In this particular case, if HH charged HCC VAT, HCC would be in a position to recover it meaning that VAT would be neutral for all parties.


The matter of whether HH’s activities amounted to a business was considered with significant references to the Longridge On The Thames.  Case commentary here

As a starting point, the judge commented on previous CJEU cases that it “…would seem to be a clear demonstration that simply because an activity is normally carried on by the state does not automatically mean that, per se, it cannot be economic activity”.  It was also decided that we have come to the conclusion that HH is not a body governed by public law.”  So this strand of HMRC’s argument did not lead anywhere.

The court decided in the taxpayer’s favour; which appears to be common sense all round.  The supplies were by way of business despite the arrangements having features which may not necessarily be found in a more commercial environment (including the fact that LAs were legally required to outsource certain of its functions) . Ultimately, consideration was flowing in both directions; HCC paid for supplies which it required and those were supplied by a third party such that VAT was properly chargeable.  The fact that HCC met its statutory obligations in structuring transactions in this way did not preclude them being an economic activity.


This case (and Longbridge) demonstrates that where charities, LAs, CICs, NFP entities and similar bodies are concerned, it is crucial to review all agreements from a VAT perspective. It is insufficient to assume the correct VAT treatment is how it is desired and slight differences in arrangements can, and do, produce different VAT outcomes. After Longbridge HMRC are looking more closely at similar arrangements (not limited to LAs) and we expect more of these types of cases to be heard in the future.

For more on the EC aspect of business/non-business please see here

VAT: Latest from the courts – Brockenhurst College

By   May 19, 2017

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has released its decision in Brockenhurst College here

Unusually, it has gone against the Advocate General (AG) Kokott’s opinion (here) and concurs with previous decisions reached by the UK courts. This is good news for the taxpayer and other providers of educational services. The decision has been referred back to the Court of Appeal (CoA) for it to consider points such as the distortion of competition and the fulfilment of a separate function, however, it is likely that this will not affect the decision by the CJEU and HMRC’s appeal will be dismissed.


The case considered two types of supply made by Brockenhurst College:

  • The supplies made from its restaurant, used for training chefs, restaurant managers and hospitality students. The claim was made on the basis that these were exempt supplies of education and not standard rated supplies of catering
  • Tickets for concerts and other live performances put on by students as part of their educational courses. These were similarly claimed to be exempt.

Students were enrolled in performing arts and catering and hospitality courses.  As part of their course of study they were required to run a restaurant and stage live performances. Persons not enrolled on the relevant courses would pay for and attend these events. The services were usually supplied to a limited public including; parents, siblings, friends etc, and were supplied at a reduced cost as part of the practical element of the students’ education. The appellant argued that the experience was invaluable to their studies and should be regarded as ‘closely related’ to the principal supply of education.  HMRC considered that the services in question were supplied to third parties in return for payment. Consequently, the services, whilst of benefit and practical experience to the students were separate VATable supplies made to third parties and the supplies cannot, therefore, be closely related to the supply of education to the student.

The First Tier Tribunal (FTT) concluded that the supplies in question were exempt as being closely linked to education because:

  • the College was an eligible body and so its principal supplies were exempt supplies of education
  • the supplies were integral and essential to those principal exempt supplies
  • the supplies were made at less than their cost
  • the supplies were not advertised to the general public. Instead, there was a database of local groups and individuals who might wish to attend the restaurant or performances
  • the supplies were not intended to create an additional source of income for the College

HMRC disagreed with the conclusion on the basis that the supplies were outside the education exemption because the students were not the beneficiaries of the supplies in question, but only benefitted from making them. HMRC appealed to the Upper Tribunal (UT).

The UT rejected HMRC’s argument and agreed with the FTT. It held that the supplies were closely related to the exempt supplies of education because they enabled the students to enjoy better education. The requirement in the domestic law for the supplies to be for the direct use of the student was met because they were of direct benefit to him.

HMRC subsequently appealed to the CoA which referred it to the CJEU.

The AG’s opinion was that closely related transactions are to be regarded as independent supplies to the principal supply, but do not include the supply of restaurant or training services supplied to third parties who are not themselves receiving the principal supply of training. The third parties pay for their own consumption (of either the catering or performance) and do not pay for the provision of education. It is very rare that the CJEU makes a decision that goes against the AG’s opinion.

CJEU Decision

The CJEU ruled that activities consisting of students of a higher education establishment supplying, for consideration and as part of their education, restaurant and entertainment services to third parties, may be regarded as supplies closely related to the principal supply of education and accordingly be exempt from VAT – provided that those services are essential to the students’ education and that their basic purpose is not to obtain additional income for that establishment by carrying out transactions which are in direct competition with those of commercial enterprises liable for VAT, which it is for the national court to determine.


We understand that there are a number of cases stood behind Brockenhurst.  Any other colleges, FE, universities or other eligible bodies carrying out similar activities to Brockenhurst need to consider their tax position. It is possible that retrospective claims may be made, depending on specific circumstances. Treating such supplies as exempt may also impact on a body’s partial exemption position and could create business/non-business implications. This may also impact on activities like hairdressing, motor maintenance and beauty treatments which colleges provide on a similar basis to the activities in this instant case.

We are happy to discuss the implications of this case with you.


VAT Latest from the courts – Reverse Charge

By   February 13, 2017

newcastle uni 1 (2)The First Tier Tribunal case of University Of Newcastle Upon Tyne is a useful reminder of the impact of the Reverse Charge.

A brief guide to the Reverse Charge is included below.


As with many UK universities, Newcastle was keen to encourage applications to study from new students from overseas. This is an important form of income for the institution.  It used local (overseas) agents to recruit students. Some 40% of those students were studying as undergraduates, 40% as postgraduates on one year “taught” courses and 20% as postgraduate research students studying for doctorates.  In 2014 the University had agreements with more than 100 agents worldwide. The agents used their own resources to recruit students for universities around the world, including in the UK. The University entered into contractual arrangements with agents and paid commission to them. In 2008 the University paid agent commissions of £1.034m, rising to £2.214m in 2012.

The Tribunal was required to consider whether the services supplied by the agents were a single supply to University or separate supplies to both the University and students. If the entire supply is to the University then the Reverse Charge is applicable and, because the University is partly exempt, this would create a VAT cost to it. If the supplies are to both the students and the University, the Reverse Charge element would be less and the VAT cost reduced. (There were changes to the Place Of Supply legislation during the period under consideration, but I have tried to focus on the overall impact in this article.)

The University contended that agents made two supplies: a supply to the University of recruitment services and a supply to students of support services. The commission paid by the University should therefore be apportioned so as to reflect in part direct consideration paid by the University for supplies of services to it, and in part third party consideration for services supplied to the students. The supplies to students would not made in the UK and therefore were not subject to UK VAT.


After thorough consideration of all of the relevant material, the judge decided that the agents made a single supply of services to the University and make no supplies to students. This meant that the University must account for VAT on the full value of services received since 2010 under the Reverse Charge (although before 2010 different rules on place of supply applied).  Additionally,  it was decided the University was not entitled to recover as input tax VAT for which it is required to account by means of a Reverse Charge. There was no direct and immediate link between the commission paid to agents and any taxable output of the University or the economic activities of the University as a whole.


It is understood that the way the University recruited students using overseas agents is common amongst most Universities in the UK, so this ruling will have a direct impact on them.  It was hardly a surprising decision, but underlines the need for all businesses to consider the impact of the application of the Reverse Charge.  Of course, the Reverse Charge will only create an actual VAT cost if a business is partly exempt, or involved in non-business activities.  The value of the Reverse Charge also counts towards the VAT registration threshold.  This means that if a fully exempt business receives Reverse Charge services from abroad, it may be required to VAT register (depending on value). Generally, this means an increased VAT cost. This situation may also affect a charity or a NFP entity.

The case also highlights the importance of contracts, documentation and website wording (should any more reminders be needed).  VAT should always be borne in mind when entering into similar arrangements. It may also be possible to structure arrangements to avoid or mitigate VAT costs if carried out at an appropriate time.

We can assist with any of the above and are happy to discuss this with you.


Guide – Reverse charge on services received from overseas
Normally, the supplier of a service is the person who must account to the tax authorities for any VAT due on the supply.  However, in certain situations, the position is reversed and it is the customer who must account for any VAT due.  This is known as the ‘Reverse Charge’ procedure.  Generally, the Reverse Charge must be applied to services which are received by a business in the UK VAT free from overseas. 
Accounting for VAT and recovery of input tax.
Where the Reverse Charge procedure applies, the recipient of the services must act as both the supplier and the recipient of the services.  On the same VAT return, the recipient must
  • account for output tax, calculated on the full value of the supply received, in Box 1;
  • (subject to partial exemption and non-business rules) include the VAT stated in box 1 as input tax in Box 4; and;
  • include the full value of the supply in both Boxes 6 and 7.
Value of supply.
The value of the deemed supply is to be taken to be the consideration in money for which the services were in fact supplied or, where the consideration did not consist or not wholly consist of money, such amount in money as is equivalent to that consideration.  The consideration payable to the overseas supplier for the services excludes UK VAT but includes any taxes levied abroad.
Time of supply.
The time of supply of such services is the date the supplies are paid for or, if the consideration is not in money, the last day of the VAT period in which the services are performed.
The outcome
The effect of the provisions is that the Reverse Charge has no net cost to the recipient if he can attribute the input tax to taxable supplies and can therefore reclaim it in full. If he cannot, the effect is to put him in the same position as if had received the supply from a UK supplier rather than from one outside the UK. Thus the charge aims to avoid cross border VAT rate shopping. It is not possible to attribute the input tax created directly to the deemed (taxable) supply. 

VAT – Latest from the courts: Craft fair pitches standard rated

By   October 17, 2016

2013-12-01 Bury St Eds Xmas Fair0020 (2)The Upper Tribunal (UT) case of Zombory-Moldovan (trading as Craft Carnival)


In the past, the rent of stall at craft fairs have generally been treated as an exempt right over land. In fact, in this instant case, the First Tier Tribunal agreed with the appellant that supplies made to stallholders to sell their goods were the equivalent to a right to occupy land and therefore exempt from VAT.

However, in this decision, the UT overturned this analysis and found that the supply was standard rated.


The reasons given were that what Craft Carnival supplied went beyond the mere use of a plot of land for a specific period and amounted to the use of a pitch at an event in order to “offer certain goods for sale”.  The test in the previous “Temco” case on this point stated that an exempt supply amounts to a “relatively passive activity linked simply to the passage of time and not generating any significant added value”.  Craft Carnivals had “very real and significant responsibilities beyond the bare provision of an appropriately-sized plot”. This, being a single supply (it was decided) meant that the entire charge was subject to VAT at the standard rate.

The appellant’s website stated that “In addition to the erection of marquees, which are hired for the duration of a fair, Mrs Zombory-Moldovan arranges for the provision 45 of other necessary temporary facilities including portable toilets, electrical generators and security fencing. She also employs between five and seven members of staff to act as ticket sellers and car park 3 marshals. Before the fair takes place Mrs Zombory-Moldovan would have issued a press release and advertised the event in local newspapers and on Craft Carnival’s website and booked a children’s entertainer, such as a magician, to encourage families to attend.”


Any business or charity which provides similar supplies must review their VAT responsibilities in light of this decision immediately. This case is likely have far-reaching implications for both organisers and those businesses which sell goods in fairs and similar events.  This may encompass; trade fairs, exhibitions and even, possibly, high end car-boot sales type events. We await HMRC’s response to their victory in this case and how wide-ranging they consider the decision to be.

Please contact us if this decision affects your or your client’s businesses.

VAT Latest from the courts – what is an economic activity by a charity?

By   September 5, 2016

Dinghies_at_Longridge_-_geograph.org.uk_-_948243 (2)In the VAT case of Longridge on the Thames (Longbridge) here the Court of Appeal considered previous decisions at the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) and Upper Tribunal (UT) on whether Longbridge carried on an economic activity. This is an important case as it goes some way in determining the meaning of “business” in light of the term “economic activity” used in EC legislation.  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 previously commented on this matter here 


Longbridge is a charity. It uses volunteers to provide boating activities (mainly to young people) on the Thames. The fees charged by Longbridge were often at below cost and the charity relied on donations to continue its operations. It constructed a new building and sought VAT zero rating of these costs on the basis that the building was to be used for non-business purposes. Consequently, it was crucial to the relief claimed that the charity was not carrying out a business in VAT terms.  The FTT and the UT found that the charity’s “predominant concern” was not to make supplies for a consideration and therefore it was not in business. These findings were based on long standing case law, the most salient being; Lord Fisher and Morrison’s Academy Boarding Houses Association. Lord Fisher set out a series of tests which HMRC rely on to determine whether a business exists – considered here and here 


The Court of Appeal allowed HMRC’s appeal.  It decided that Longridge was carrying on an economic activity and therefore the construction of the new building could not be zero rated.  The decision is worth considering in full, however, the court held that there was a “direct link” between the fees paid and service the recipients received, even if it was subsidised in certain instances and that Longbridge was furthering its charitable objectives.  The requirement for a direct link was clearly demonstrated in The Apple and Pear Development Council case. The establishment of the direct link meant that Longridge was carrying in business (in UK law).


The important test for whether an economic activity is being carried on is now; the direct link between payment and service. There is no longer the requirement to consider the test of “predominant concern” and in fact it was stated in the decision by the judges that this test is “unhelpful and may be misleading.” We must now ignore; the motive of the provider of the service, its status as a charity, the amount charged, whether subsidies are received by the charity, and whether volunteers are involved in the relevant activities.

This is a very big change in the analysis of whether a business exists and basically means that previous cases on this matter were wrongly decided.  It brings the UK into line with the EC on the definition of an economic activity and therefore provides clarity on this matter – which has long been an area which has desperately required it.

It means that, unless the decision is reversed at the Supreme Court, we say goodbye to the unloved Lord Fisher tests. However, this may be very bad news for charities and not for profit entities that have relied on these tests to avoid VAT registration and charging VAT on their supplies.  It is likely that many more charities will be dragged into the VAT net.  It remains to be seen whether this case will trigger a renewed targeting effort on charities by HMRC, but what is clear is that charities need to be conscious of this new turn of events and consider their position.  We strongly recommend that any bodies which have had previous discussions with HMRC on this point and any entity which is affected by this decision take professional advice immediately.

VAT – Partial Exemption: What Is It? What do I need to know?

By   August 10, 2016

commercial property interior (2)As part of our guides to VAT basics, we take a brief look at partial exemption and how it affects a business.

The first point to make is that partial exemption is often complex and costly. In some cases it may be avoided by planning and in others it is a fact of life for a business which needs to be managed properly.

The Basics

The VAT a business incurs on its expenditure is called input tax. For most businesses this is reclaimed from HMRC on VAT returns if it relates to standard rated or zero rated sales (referred to as “taxable supplies”) that that business makes. Exempt supplies are not to be confused with non-business income which are dealt with under a different regime.

However, a business which makes exempt sales may not be in a position to recover all of the input tax which it incurred. A business in this position is called partly exempt. Generally, any input tax which directly relates to exempt supplies is irrecoverable. In addition, an element of that business’ general overheads, e.g.; light, heat, telephone, computers, professional fees, etc are deemed to be in part attributable to exempt supplies and a calculation must be performed to establish the element which falls to be irrecoverable.

Input tax which falls within the overheads category must be apportioned according to a so called; partial exemption method. The “Standard Method” requires a comparison between the value of taxable and exempt supplies made by the business. The calculation is; the percentage of taxable supplies of all supplies multiplied by the input tax to be apportioned which gives the element of VAT input tax which may be recovered. Other partial exemption methods (so called Special Methods) are available by specific agreement with HMRC.  A flowchart which illustrates the Standard Method of apportionment is below.

partial exemption flowchart1

Which businesses are affected?

Any business which receives income from the following sources may be affected by partial exemption:

  • Property letting and sales – generally all types of supply of land*
  • Financial services
  • Insurance
  • Betting, gaming and lotteries
  • Education
  • Health and welfare
  • Sport, sports competitions and physical education
  • Cultural services

This list is not exhaustive.

* Most businesses which do not routinely make exempt supplies usually encounter exemption in the area of land and property and it is an easy trap to fall into not to consider VAT when involved in property transactions. This is one area where VAT planning may be of assistance as it is possible in most situations to deliberately choose to add VAT to an exempt supply to avoid a loss of input tax.  This is known as the option to tax, and it is considered in more detail here

De Minimis relief

There is however relief available for a business in the form of de minimis limits. Broadly, if the total of the irrecoverable directly attributable (to exempt suppliers) and the element of overhead input tax which has been established using a partial exemption method falls to be de minimis, all of that input tax may be recovered in the normal way. The de minimis limit is currently £7,500 per annum of input tax and one half of all input tax for the year.

As a result, after using the partial exemption method, should the input tax fall below £7,500 (£625 per month) and 50% of all input tax for a year it is recoverable in full. This calculation is required every quarter (for businesses which render returns on a quarterly basis) with a review at the year end, called an annual adjustment carried out at the end of a business’ partial exemption year. The quarterly de minimis is consequently £1,875 of exempt input tax which represents spending of under £10,000 net; not a huge amount.

Should the de minimis limits be breached, all input tax relating to exempt supplies is irrecoverable.

The value for the de minimis limit has been in place for over 20 years (when it was increased by a huge £25 per month) and it is rather ridiculous that it has not been increased to reflect inflation.  This, coupled with the fact that the VAT rate has increased significantly means that the relief which was once very useful for a business has withered away to such an extent that partial exemption catches even very small businesses which I am sure goes against the original purpose of the relief.

In summary – for a business exemption is a burden not a relief.  It represents a real cost in terms of tax payable, time and other resources, and uncertainty. We often find that this is an area which HMRC examine closely and one which benefits from proactive negotiation with HMRC.