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definition used in ECJ cases is taken from the EC 2nd VAT Directive Annex A13 as follows even though this Directive is no longer in force: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 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.

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