Tag Archives: court

VAT – Latest on the Nesquik case

By   February 23, 2018

Latest from the courts

I covered the Nesquik first Tier Tribunal (FTT) case here Well, legal matters have since moved on and the case reached the Upper Tribunal (UT) recently. Nestlé UK Limited the manufacturer of Nesquik appealed against the FTT’s decision that its fruit flavoured products are subject to 20% VAT despite the chocolate flavour being zero rated.

Unfortunately for Nestlé , the UT decision went against it and banana and strawberry Nesquik remains standard rated. Similar contentions (to those in the FTT case) were advanced by the taxpayer, however the UT dismissed Nestlé’s appeal.

The Tribunal recognised that there is not currently a logical and consistent regime which applies to VAT on food (there is a long list of examples which include gingerbread men, smoothies, various types of crisps, not to mention Jaffa cakes….).  I think most advisers could not agree more with the judge and I echo the comments I made after the FTT case: the entire legislation relating to food needs a complete overhaul.

Full details of the case here

VAT: Latest from the courts – Hastings Insurance Place Of Supply

By   February 22, 2018

In the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of Hastings Insurance the issue was where was the place of supply (POS) of services?

The POS rules determine under which VAT regime the supply is treated, whether the associated input tax may be recovered and how the services are reported. Consequently, determining the POS for any supply is vitally important because getting it wrong may not only mean that tax is overpaid in one country, but it is not declared in the appropriate country so that penalties and interest are levied. Getting it wrong also means that the input tax position is likely to be incorrect; meaning that VAT can be over or underclaimed.  The rules for the POS of services are notoriously complicated and even subtle differences in a business’ situation can produce a different VAT outcome.

Background

Hastings is an insurance services company operating in the UK.  The appeal relates to whether the appellant was able to recover input tax it incurred in the UK which was attributable to supplies of; broking, underwriting support and claims handling services made to a Gibraltar based insurance underwriter (Advantage) which supplied motor insurance to UK customers through Hastings. In order to obtain credit for the relevant input tax, the supply to Advantage must have a POS outside the EU, eg: the recipient had a place of belonging in Gibraltar and not the UK. HMRC argued that Advantage belonged in the UK so that the input tax could not have been properly recoverable.  Consequently, the issue was where Advantage “belonged” for VAT purposes.

The POS rules set out where a person “belongs”.

A taxable person belongs:

  • where it has a business establishment, or;
  • if different, where it has a fixed establishment, or;
  • if it has both a business establishment and a fixed establishment (or several such establishments), where the establishment is located which is most directly concerned with the supply

Further details on this point are explained here

Contentions

It was not disputed that Advantage had a business establishment in Gibraltar. The question was whether it also had a fixed establishment in the UK and, if so, whether the supplies of services were made to that fixed establishment rather than to its business establishment in Gibraltar. HMRC contended that Advantage had a fixed establishment in the UK which was “more directly concerned with the supply of insurance” such that the POS was the UK. This was on the basis that Advantage had human and technical resources in the UK which were actually used to provide its services to UK customers. Hastings obviously argued to the contrary; that Advantage had no UK fixed establishment and that services were supplied to, and by, Advantage in Gibraltar.

Technical

It may be helpful to look briefly at CJEU case law which considered what an establishment other than a business establishment is. It is: “characterised by a sufficient degree of permanence and a suitable structure in terms of human and technical resources”, where looking at the location of the recipient of the supply, “to enable it to receive and use the services supplied to it for its own needs” or, where looking at the location of the supplier, “to enable it to provide the services which it supplies”. 

Decision

The FTT concluded that the input tax in dispute is recoverable because it was attributable to supplies made to Advantage on the basis that it belonged outside the EU (as interpreted in accordance with the relevant EU rules and case law). After a long and exhaustive analysis of the facts the summary was;

  • The appellant’s human and technical resources, through which it provided the services to Advantage, did not comprise a fixed establishment of Advantage in the UK, whether for the purposes of determining where Advantage made supplies of insurance or where the appellant made the supplies of its services.
  • Even if, contrary to the FTT’s view, those resources comprised a fixed establishment in the UK, there is no reason to depart from the location of Advantage’s business establishment in Gibraltar as the place of belonging/supply in the circumstances of this case.

Summary

If this case affects you or your clients it will be rewarding to consider the details of the arrangements which are helpfully set out fully in the decision. This was, in my opinion, a borderline case which could have been decided differently quiet easily.  A significant amount of the evidence produced was deemed inadmissible; which is an interesting adjunct to the main issue in itself. Whether HMRC take this matter further remains to be seen.  It is always worthwhile reviewing a business’ POS in depth and we are able to assist with this.

VAT – There is no such thing as a free lunch

By   January 3, 2018

Latest from the courts

In the Court of Appeal case of ING Intermediate Holdings Ltd the issue was whether the provision of “free” banking actually constituted a supply for VAT purposes.

Background

The appeal concerned the recoverability of input tax. ING wished to recover (via deduction against the outputs of a separate investment business) a proportion of VAT expenses incurred in connection with a “deposit-taking” business. ING contended that this activity did not involve any VATable supply. HMRC contended, and did so successfully before both prior tribunals, that it is more than a deposit-taking business and involved the provision of banking services.

The issue

The relevant services were supplied to the public, and the user of the services were not charged a fee. Consequently, the essential issue was; whether the “free” banking services were provided for consideration and, if so, how that consideration ought to be quantified for VAT purposes. If there was a consideration, there was a supply, and that supply would be exempt; thus not providing a right to recovery of input tax for the appellant.

Technical

There is no definition of consideration in either the EC Principal VAT Directive or the VAT Act 1994. In the UK, the meaning was originally taken from contract law, but the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed that the term is to be given the Community meaning and is not to be variously interpreted by Member States. The Community definition used in ECJ cases is taken from the EC 2nd VAT Directive Annex A13 as follows even though this Directive is no longer in force:

“…the expression “consideration” means everything received in return for the supply of goods or the provision of services, including incidental expenses (packing, transport, insurance etc), that is to say not only the cash amounts charged but also, for example, the value of the goods received in exchange or, in the case of goods or services supplied by order of a public authority, the amount of the compensation received.”

NB: In order for there to be consideration, it must be able to be quantifiable and able to be expressed in monetary terms.

Decision

The CA decided that although there was no distinct charge to the users of the service, there was a supply of services for a consideration. That consideration was the difference between what the customer obtained from the relevant account, and what he could have obtained from an account which was not free, but provided better returns (the interest rate offered must have contained some deduction for the services provided). This was capable of being expressed in monetary terms (although it is interesting to note that the CA stated that it would be undesirable to say which method should be applied, although the court was “entirely satisfied” that it could be done).

Consequently there was a supply for VAT purposes and ING’s appeal was therefore dismissed.

Commentary

HMRC quite often argue that there is a supply when in fact, there is no supply. However, they did have a decent argument in this case and I understand that they are likely to apply this to a number of other long running disputes.  Please contact us if you consider that this case could affect your business or your client’s business.

Ding Dong – Avon calling (for VAT)

By   December 21, 2017

Latest from the courts

The CJEU case of Avon Cosmetics Limited considered the validity and completeness of a specific UK derogation called a “Retail Sale Direction”.

Background

Avon Cosmetics Limited (‘Avon’) sells its beauty products in the UK to representatives, known colloquially as ‘Avon Ladies’, who in turn make retail sales to their customers (‘direct selling model’). Many of the Avon Ladies are not registered for VAT. As a result, their profit margins would not normally be subject to VAT. As an example; an Avon Lady may buy goods from Avon at £50 and sell them at £70. In HMRC’s eyes, the £20 difference is not taxed.

“Lost VAT” Derogation

That problem of ‘lost VAT’ at the last stage of the supply chain is typical of direct selling models. In order to deal with the problem, the UK sought and obtained a derogation from the standard rule that VAT is charged on the actual sales price. In Avon’s case that derogation  allowed HMRC to charge Avon VAT, not on the wholesale price paid by the unregistered Avon Ladies, but instead on the retail price at which the Avon Ladies would go on to sell the products to the final consumer. However, the way the derogation is applied does not take into account the costs incurred by the unregistered representatives in their retail selling activities, and the input tax that they would normally have been able to deduct had they been VAT registered (‘notional input tax’). In particular, where Avon Ladies buy products for demonstration purposes (not to resell but to use as a selling aid) they cannot deduct VAT on those purchases as input tax.  The result is that the disregarded notional input tax in relation to such costs ‘sticks’ in the supply chain and increases the overall VAT charged on the direct selling model over that charged on sales through ordinary retail outlets.

Challenge

The appeal by Avon concerns the interpretation and validity of the Derogation.

In particular

  • whether there is an obligation to take into account the notional input tax of direct resellers such as the Avon Ladies
  • whether there was an obligation for the UK to bring the issue of notional input tax to the EC’s attention when it requested the Derogation, and
  • what would be/what are the consequences of failing to comply with either of those obligations?

Result

The CJEU found that neither the derogation authorised by Council Decision 89/534/EEC of 24 May 1989 authorising the UK to apply, in respect of certain supplies to unregistered resellers nor, national measures implementing that decision infringe the principles of proportionality and fiscal neutrality. Therefore, output tax remains due on the ultimate retail sale value, but there is no credit for any VAT incurred by the Avon Ladies.

VAT: Time limit for claiming input tax

By   December 4, 2017

                     Portuguese Judiciary 

Latest from the courts.

In the helpful CJEU case of Biosafe (this link is in French, so with thanks to Mr Lees – for my schoolboy French and more helpfully; a translation website) the issue was the date at which input tax can be reclaimed in cases where VAT was charged at an incorrect rate (lower than should have been applied) and this is subsequently corrected by the issue of an additional VAT only invoice.

Background

The two parties to a transaction believed that a reduced rate of VAT applied to the supply of certain goods. The Portuguese tax authorities subsequently determined the correct VAT rate applicable was higher. The recipient refused to pay the additional tax on the grounds that the recovery of the input tax may be time barred.

Decision

Broadly, the CJEU held that VAT may be recovered on the date when a “correcting” (VAT only) invoice is issued, rather than when the initial tax point was created. So the capping provisions applicable in this case where not an issue.

Commentary

This is often an issue, and I come across it usually in the construction industry (where various VAT rates may be applicable). It is an important issue as in the UK we have a four year capping provision. If the initial supply was over four years ago, any claim for input tax will be time barred if this was deemed to be the only tax point.

In my experience, this issue does create some “confusion” in HMRC and is a helpful point of reference if there are any future disagreements on this matter.  It must be correct that the right to recover input tax only arises when there is a document (invoice) issued to support such a claim as it would not be possible to make a claim without evidence to support it. If the original tax point is used as a one-off date which cannot be subsequently moved, it means that the claim for the difference in the two rates of tax (the original incorrect rate and the later, higher rate) could not be made after the capping period; which seems, at the very least, unfair. The later correcting invoice therefore creates a new tax point.

Please contact us if you have any similar input tax claims disallowed as being time barred, or you are currently in a dispute with HMRC on this matter.

 

EC proposes new tools to combat cross-border VAT fraud

By   December 1, 2017

The European Commission has, this week, unveiled new tools to make the EU’s Value Added Tax (VAT) system more fraud-proof and close loopholes which can lead to large-scale VAT fraud. The new rules aim to build trust between Member States so that they can exchange more information and boost cooperation between national tax authorities and law enforcement authorities to fight VAT fraud.

Commentary

One wonders if this is the type of thing that the UK will miss out on after Brexit. Will this increase the threat of fraud? Will fraudsters target the UK? Or will “taking control of our borders” mean that cross-border VAT fraud will be reduced?

We shall just have to wait and see…..

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.

Legislation

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.

Brexit

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.

Recomendations

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.

Commentary

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.

VAT – Littlewoods compound interest Supreme Court judgement

By   November 6, 2017

Latest from the courts

The Littlewoods Limited case

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

Background

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

Decision

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

The above reasoning was based on the following reasons:

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

Implications

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

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

VAT: The ECJ decides that bridge is NOT a sport

By   October 27, 2017

The English Bridge Union Limited (EBU) case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By   October 17, 2017

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

Technical Background

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

The distinction is important for two main reasons:

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

The difference between HP and Leasing arrangements:

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

Case Background

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

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

Decision

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

VAT Impact

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

Commentary

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