OTS Outlines Future Work Plans

The Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has published a paper outlining its future works programme, identifying areas of interest that the office will be looking at in the next twelve months and beyond.

The OTS is currently working on a review of VAT, and expects to publish its report in October or November 2017. Work has also commenced on a high-level paper on the business lifecycle which looks at key events and the various taxes which apply at these points.

The Government has requested a review of capital allowances and the possibility of using instead the depreciation charged in the financial statements. Work has commenced on this and the OTS aims to publish its report early next year.

During the next twelve months, the OTS will begin work on several further projects although not all of these will necessarily be taken forward, or their scope may be modified on further review. The projects include:

  • a wide review of technology asking how recent advances in technology may provide novel opportunities for the simplification of the design or administration of the tax system;
  • further examination of particular areas of the business lifecycle work, such as reliefs for investment;
  • exploring the potential for a review of aspects of the taxation of savings and investments; and
  • exploring the potential for a review of aspects of inheritance tax.

In the medium term, the OTS will continue to engage with stakeholders on Making Tax Digital and there is likely to be ongoing work on employment status and the ‘Gig economy’.

The OTS is also proposing to undertake a review of the structure of the tax system in other countries, particularly the US, Ireland and the Netherlands to explore whether there are structural features of other countries tax system which would provide simplification opportunities for the UK.

Making Tax Digital VAT Regulations to be Available by April 2018

The government has confirmed plans to publish and consult on draft VAT regulations for Making Tax Digital (MTD), with the aim to have the regulations in place by April 2018 to give businesses and software developers at least twelve months to prepare.

In July 2017 the Government announced that MTD is being delayed. MTD will be not be mandatory until April 2019, and then only for VAT. From that date, businesses with a turnover above the VAT threshold (currently £85,000) will be required to keep digital records for VAT purposes.

The VAT regulations will specify the information a business needs to maintain in digital format and will include:

  • The business name, principle place of business and VAT registration number, along with information about VAT accounting schemes used;
  • the VAT account that each VAT registered business must keep, by law – this is the link between primary records and the VAT return; and
  • information about supplies made and received.

Those reporting under the VAT flat rate scheme will not have to report under MTD except for purchases relating to capital goods with a VAT inclusive value of £2,000 or more.

Impact on businesses

Quarterly reporting for VAT is already mandatory for most businesses. Although 99% of VAT returns are filed online, only around 12% are currently filed via software. The majority of returns are therefore (presumably) manually entered onto the government gateway page and submitted to HMRC – requiring manual input and intervention. Under MTD, businesses will not be able to keep manual records.

Currently, spreadsheets are commonly used – not only to maintain records, but also to convert the information from accounting software into the VAT return figures. MTD requires spreadsheets to interact directly with software. Overcoming these issues may be challenging for businesses.

MTD applies for VAT return periods commencing on or after 1 April 2019. This is the same time that the UK will leave the EU. VAT is likely to be significantly impacted by Brexit, particularly in relation to the VAT treatment of transactions between the UK and EU.

Preparation

By April 2019, businesses will need to:

  • understand the tax-technical changes to the UK/EU VAT rules; and
  • ensure that their accounting systems and processes can deal with such changes correctly.
  • These changes will need to be implemented via the new reporting requirements of MTD. Businesses and their advisers are in for a busy time in 2019 – Early planning and preparation will be the key to a successful transition.

VAT on Multi-Products

Most products and services are subject to standard rate VAT at 20%, but some products are zero-rated (VAT applied at 0%), while others, e.g. rent for certain buildings, are exempt from VAT. There is a limited range of products and services that attract 5% VAT.

If you supply a package which is made up of products and services which carry different rates of VAT,you need to be sure of the split to charge the right amount of VAT to your customers. The VAT man may insist that you charge VAT at the highest rate if he thinks the lower-rated product is only incidental to the total package the customer is buying. For example a printed leaflet (zero rate) sold with a DVD (standard rate).

Say you own a large retail building and let out space within it as shops and in it are shops for antique dealers. The rent is exempt from VAT if you have not “opted to tax” your whole building. Each dealer can ask you to sell stock on their behalf if he is not present when a customer arrives. This selling service should be standard rated as an agency service.

In a similar case to this the VAT man argued that the whole charge to the dealers (rent and selling service) should be charged at 20% VAT. Fortunately the Tax Tribunal disagreed and ruled there were two elements which should have separate VAT charges, as this is how the antique dealers viewed the arrangement.

If your products have several elements with different VAT treatments, talk to us about how your customers view the mix, and how you should split the VAT charges.

Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS)

This sounds like a friendly retail outlet where you might buy a pint of milk on a Sunday evening. In fact it is short-hand for the online portal which UK businesses should use from 2015 to account for VAT they owe in respect of digital services provided to customers in other EU countries.

“Digital services” includes a multitude of products such as:

  • music downloads;
  • video on demand;
  • electronic books;
  • online games;
  • anti-virus services;
  • software purchased by download;
  • charges by online auction sites;
  • sales of data or images online; and
  • automated learning or exams.

From 1 January 2015, if you sell a digital service to someone in another EU country, who is not a business (ie an individual, Government body or perhaps a charity), you must account for VAT in the country where that customer belongs. This means you need to charge VAT on your invoice to your overseas customer at the rate that applies in the customer’s country, and then pay that VAT to the tax authority of that country.

As there are 28 EU countries it would be an administrative nightmare to complete a quarterly VAT return in every country in which you have customers. Hence the need for an online portal (MOSS) to do all the VAT accounting and payment in one go.

The VAT MOSS portal is now open for businesses to register (see https://www.gov.uk/vat-on-digital-services-in-the-eu), but it’s not going to solve all the admin nightmares. For instance:

  • you need to know the VAT rates that apply to your products in all the countries you sell to;
  • your VAT invoices to customers in other countries must comply with the local regulations – which are NOT the same across the EU;
  • VAT-MOSS returns must be made for calendar quarters irrespective of the periods for which you draw up your UK VAT return;
  • VAT due under MOSS must be paid electronically by the 20th of the month following the end of the quarter, but payment can’t be made by direct debit;
  • the tax authorities for every EU country you sell to can inspect your sales records, which must be retained for 10 years.

You also need to be VAT registered in the UK before you can use the MOSS system. Contact us and let’s talk about what you need to do.

VAT on international services

When you sell services to businesses in other countries, the sale will generally be outside the scope of UK VAT. You don’t charge VAT on your invoice, but you need to report the value of that sale as part of the total in box 6 on your VAT return. There are exceptions to this general rule for services connected to land, live performances, catering or passenger transport.

If the sale is to a VAT registered business in another EU country the sale must also be reported on your EC Sales list. If your customer is not a business, or is not VAT registered, the sale should not be included on the EC sales list. However, from 2015 sales of various electronic services, broadcasting or telecoms to non-business customers could affect your liability to register for VAT in the customer’s country.

If your customer is located outside of the EU, you don’t report the sale on the EC sales list, but the value of the sale must still be added to the total to be declared in box 6 on your VAT return.

These distinctions are easy to get wrong, so do ask us if you have any doubts about how to report international sales.

EC sales lists

If your business is VAT registered and you sell goods or services into other European countries you must generally also submit an additional form to the Government called an EC Sales List (ESL also known as form VAT101). There are no payments to be made or reclaimed with the ESL, as you do on your quarterly VAT return form, but you must submit the ESL on time or HMRC will charge a penalty for late submission.

If you export goods worth more than £35,000 per year you will need to complete a monthly ESL, otherwise it’s a quarterly task. However, where your total turnover is less than £106,500 and you export less than £11,000 you can ask HMRC for permission to submit just one ESL per year.

HMRC should send you an ESL form to complete if you have filled in box 8 on your VAT return. Don’t ignore it, as the deadline for returning the form is just 14 days from the end of the quarter. If you chose to complete an online version of the ESL you have 21 days from the end of the quarter. These deadlines are much shorter than that for your quarterly VAT return.

We can complete and submit the ESL online on your behalf. For more information, please contact us.

Flat rate schemes

The flat rate VAT scheme for small businesses is designed to reduce administration hassle for the businesses that use it, not to reduce the amount of VAT the business pays over to HMRC, but that is often a side effect of using the scheme.

You can use the flat rate VAT scheme if you have an annual turnover up to £150,000 (net of VAT). Once registered to use the scheme, you must apply VAT to your sales at the rates required for the particular product or service (20%, 5% or zero). However, when completing the quarterly VAT returns you ignore any VAT paid on purchases, apart from large assets costing over £2000. You calculate the VAT to be paid over to HMRC as a flat percentage of your gross sales, with the percentage used determined by the trade sector which most of your sales fall into.

For example a hairdresser which is registered for the flat rate scheme must use a flat rate of 13%. On sales of £3,000 in the quarter she charges VAT at 20%: £600. She will pay VAT to HMRC of: 13% x £3,600 = £468.

You must choose to register for the flat rate VAT scheme, it will not be offered to you, even if you would be better off using the scheme. When you register you must choose which of 55 trade categories best fits the majority of sales made by your business. This is important as the flat rate percentages vary from 4% to 14.5% for different trade sectors, so an incorrect choice of trade sector can be very expensive.

You can change the trade sector you opt to use, but HMRC generally only permit a change to be made from the beginning of the current VAT quarter. You must also review the trade sector chosen on the anniversary of starting to use the flat rate VAT scheme. If your sales mix has altered so most of the sales are in a different trade sector, you must switch to using the flat rate percentage relevant to the majority of your sales. We can help you decide if the flat rate scheme would be advantageous for your business.

VAT on printed books and leaflets

There is no VAT on printed books, booklets, newspapers, and leaflets. Well there is – it’s zero-rate VAT, so the customer pays no VAT, but the supplier can reclaim the VAT it pays on purchases.

Printing businesses have to be very clear about which of their products they treat as zero-rated for VAT and which are standard-rated so 20% VAT applies. The VAT man likes to come round and check. If you have classified your printed products incorrectly, VAT on the earlier sales (up to four years ago) will have to be paid. It’s unlikely that you will be able to recover this extra VAT from your customers.

In a recent case printed card document folders, which were designed to hold other leaflets, were judged to be standard rated for VAT, as was a laminated business card. However, personalised souvenir photo-books were determined to be zero-rated. We can help you decide which of your products should be zero or standard rated for VAT.

Beware; if the book, leaflet or newsletter is provided in an electronic form, standard rate VAT will apply. There is a special exemption for audio-books for the blind which are zero-rated.

Non-resident Landlords

If you leave the UK and let your property here, your letting agent (or the tenant where there is no agent) should deduct basic rate (20%) tax from the rents paid after deduction of certain expenses, under the non-resident landlord scheme (NRL). This ensures that at least some tax is paid on the income in the UK.

You can avoid having 20% tax deducted if you successfully apply for approval under the NRL scheme from HMRC. Approval will be granted where your UK tax affairs are up to date, or you don’t expect to be liable to pay UK tax in the year you apply.

The NRL scheme applies if the landlord’s usual place of abode is not in the UK. This is not the same as being not resident in the UK for tax purposes. An absence from the UK for as little as six months can be enough to establish your usual place of abode as being outside the UK.

The NRL scheme applies to members of the armed forces and diplomats, just as it does to any other non-resident landlord. It also applies to overseas trusts and companies, which must have income tax (not corporation tax) deducted from their rental income.

If your UK property is let as holiday accommodation, you may need to register for VAT in the UK as holiday lets are subject to standard rate VAT. As an overseas person you have a zero turnover threshold for VAT registration, so you may have to register for VAT immediately on letting holiday accommodation. However, where a UK letting agent manages the property on your behalf, the VAT registration threshold of £79,000 applies for that landlord.

VAT Penalties

If you pay your VAT late to HMRC, even one day late, your card will be marked for a VAT penalty called a ‘default surcharge’. The first late payment doesn’t attract a monetary penalty, but the second occasion on which you are late within 12 months triggers a penalty of 2% of the VAT due. The third, fourth, and fifth occasions of lateness increase the percentage of the penalty to 5%, 10% then 15% of the VAT due.

You may not notice the first two penalties set at 2% and 5% of the VAT due as HMRC will only demand payment from a small business if the total penalty amounts to over £400. However, you will receive a warning letter, and you should appeal against the penalty if you had a reasonable excuse for paying late.

Not having the money available to pay your VAT bill is not a reasonable excuse. If your business has a cash flow problem you need to ask the HMRC business support service for time to pay before the VAT becomes payable, or we can do this on your behalf. The number to ring is: 0300 200 3835, and it’s open every day. Don’t ring the VAT helpline as they can’t deal with VAT debt issues.

If your VAT payment was delayed by circumstances outside your control, for example a computer failure at your bank, that would be a reasonable excuse. However, you do need to present evidence of this reason when asking HMRC to review the penalty. Around 60% of VAT penalties are overturned on review, so it’s worth a try!