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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 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!

VAT on sale of commercial buildings

When purchasing or selling a commercial property one of the first things to establish is whether VAT will be applied to the price of the property. Land and buildings are generally exempt from VAT, but ‘new’ commercial property (i.e. less than three years old) will have VAT applied. Otherwise VAT should only be charged on the sale of a commercial property where the seller has previously elected to apply VAT to the property. This election is known as the ‘option to tax’.

There are circumstances where the option to tax may be disapplied by the seller, such as where the purchaser is going to use the building solely for charitable purposes or the building will be converted into residential use. If there is any question that VAT should not be applied to the sale, the seller must ask the purchaser for written confirmation of the intended use of the building.

When the purchaser plans to convert the building to residential use it must provide the seller with a VAT certificate (form VAT1614D) to confirm their intentions for the building. In other circumstances a written instruction from the purchaser should be sufficient.

Where VAT is applied to the price of the building, the stamp duty land tax (SDLT) charge will inevitably be higher, as SDLT is charged on the gross consideration paid, including the VAT charged. If you are planning to purchase a commercial property, or sell one, ask us to check the VAT implications before the price is agreed.

VAT and indirect exports change

When you export goods to a country outside the EU the goods are ‘zero-rated’ for VAT purposes, which means you do not apply VAT to the value of the goods. However, you need to have the paperwork to prove that the goods left the UK.

If your customer does the physical exporting, in that they take possession of the goods in the UK and handle the shipping, this is called an ‘indirect export’. HMRC has previously only allowed you to zero rate the goods in this situation if your customer was an ‘overseas person’ – they had no VAT registration in the UK and no business establishment here. Also the goods must leave the UK within three months of the handover date.

From 1 October 2013 the rules for indirect exports have been relaxed slightly. Now you can zero rate the goods for export to a country outside the EU even if your customer is VAT registered in the UK. However, the customer must still not have a business established in the UK.

This change in the rules has been brought about due to pressure on the UK to comply with EU rules. It is thus effectively back-dated for four years. If you believe you have applied VAT in the last four years when under this change of rule it would not apply, you can reclaim that VAT. However, HMRC will expect you to pay back any reclaimed VAT to your customers who original bore the VAT on the goods.

We can help you check that you have the VAT position on any exports 100% correct

VAT due payment date

When must your VAT payment reach HMRC? The correct answer is: seven days after the end of the month following the end of your VAT quarter. Not seven working days, seven calendar days.

If you get this wrong and pay your VAT late, you will receive one or two warnings from HMRC (two where the penalty would be under £400). If you pay late again within 12 months you will be charged a penalty of 2% of the late paid VAT. This percentage penalty increases every time you pay late, from 5% to 10% to 15% of the VAT due. Even paying one day late, counts as late for calculating those penalties.

Make sure you know exactly how long it will take your electronic payment to reach HMRC’s bank account. Using the faster payment service (FPS) normally means the payment arrives within two hours, but there are monetary limits for FPS which vary between banks and for different types of bank accounts (corporate or retail). If the payment is too large to be sent by FPS, the bank will generally send it by BACS – which takes three working days.

If you have a direct debit set up to pay your VAT, HMRC will deduct the correct amount from your bank account three days after the due date for that VAT return, or three days after you submit your VAT return if that is later. So if you are late with filing your VAT return, the direct debit will be collected late, and you will have made a late payment of VAT, leading to a potential penalty.

Don’t rely on HMRC VAT advice

If you are uncertain about whether you can make a claim for VAT you have incurred, or how to treat a certain transaction for VAT purposes, you could try searching the HM Revenue & Customs website for a solution to your query. Alternatively you may ring the HM Revenue & Customs VAT helpline but the adviser is likely to send you a copy of a VAT leaflet which is available on the HM Revenue & Customs website. This may, or may not, answer your query.

If you do get a straight answer out of the VAT helpline, be careful to record what you say, and exactly what HM Revenue & Customs adviser told you. This is important as if the advice from the helpline is later found to be incorrect you need to be able to prove you presented the full facts for the reply which you relied on. Even when a subsequent VAT inspection may determine you were wrong all along and charge you penalties and interest on any under-paid or over-claimed VAT.

The courts have now decided that taxpayers cannot legitimately expect the advice given verbally by HM Revenue & Customs to be 100% correct, and this can include advice given in a VAT leaflet or online on the HM Revenue & Customs website. The only way you can count on advice given by HM Revenue & Customs is to apply for a written ruling known as a ‘clearance’. To get clearance you have to set out the full facts in writing in a clear and unequivocal fashion.

We can help you with this clearance implication, or we may be able to answer your VAT question ourselves.