Deeks VAT News issue 34
July 2023 – Issue 34 Keeping you up to date on VAT changes In this months newsletter we cover the following: How long do I have to keep records? Mind the gap – HMRC latest figures What is digital Euro? VAT refunds guidance Updated Notice 700 – The VAT guide What is reasonable care? A […]
July 2023 – Issue 34
Keeping you up to date on VAT changes
In this months newsletter we cover the following:
A VAT Did you know?
In this hot weather it is important to drink sufficient fluids. If you buy a bottle of water, you will pay VAT, but milk is zero rated.
How long do I have to keep records?
Record keeping is a rather dry subject, but it is important not to destroy records which HMRC may later insist on seeing. There are various VAT records a business is required to keep here, but how long must they be kept for?
This is seemingly a straightforward question, but as is usual with VAT there are some ifs and buts.
The basic starting point
The usual answer is that VAT records must be kept for six years. However, there are circumstances where that limit is extended and also times when it may be reduced. Although the basic limit is six years, unless fraud is suspected, HMRC can only go back four years to issue assessments, penalties, and interest.
Variations to the six-year rule
One Stop Shop (OSS)
If a business is required to use the OSS then its records must be retained for ten years (and they should be able to be sent to HMRC electronically if asked).
Capital Goods Scheme (CGS)
If a business has assets covered by the CGS, eg; certain property, computers, aircraft and ships then adjustments will be required up to a ten year period. Consequently, records will have to be retained for at least ten years in order to demonstrate that the scheme has been applied correctly.
Land and buildings
In the case of land and buildings you might need to keep documents for 20 years. We advise that records are kept this long in any event as land and buildings tend to be high value and complex from a VAT perspective, However, it is necessary in connection with the option to tax as it is possible to revoke an option after 20 years.
Transfer Of a Going Concern (TOGC)
This is more of a ‘who” rather than a what or a how long. When a business is sold as a going concern, in most circumstances the seller of the business will retain the business records. When this happens, the seller must make available to the buyer any information the buyer needs to comply with his VAT obligations. However, in cases where the buyer takes on the seller’s VAT registration number, the seller must transfer all of the VAT the records to the buyer unless there is an agreement with HMRC for the seller to retain the records. If necessary, HMRC may disclose to the buyer information it holds on the transferred business. HMRC do this to allow the buyer to meet his legal obligations. But HMRC will always consult the seller first, to ensure that it does not disclose confidential information.
How can a business cut the time limits for record keeping?
It is possible to write to HMRC and request a concession to the usual time limits. HMRC generally treat such a request sympathetically, but will not grant a concession automatically. If a concession is granted there is still a minimum allowance period of preservation which is in line with a business’ commercial practice.
Computer produced records
Where records are stored in an electronic form, a business must be able to ensure the records’ integrity, eg; that the data has not changed, and the legibility throughout the required storage period. If the integrity and legibility of the stored electronic records depends on a specific technology, then the original technology or an equivalent that provides backwards compatibility for the whole of the required storage period must also be retained.
How to keep records
HMRC state that VAT records may be kept on paper, electronically or as part of a software program (eg; bookkeeping software). All records must be accurate, complete, and readable.
If a business’ records are inadequate it may have to pay a record-keeping penalty. If at an inspection HMRC find that records have deliberately been destroyed your they will apply a penalty of £3,000 (this may be reduced to £1,500 if only some of the records are destroyed). In addition, there will be questions about why they have been destroyed!
GOV.UK has published details of the most recent measurement of the tax gap for 2021-2022.
What is the tax gap?
The tax gap is measured by comparing the net tax total theoretical liability with tax actually paid. This is comparing the amount of tax HMRC expected to receive in the UK and the amount HMRC actually received.
- The tax gap is estimated to be 4.8% of total theoretical tax liabilities, or £35.8 billion in absolute terms, in the 2021 to 2022 tax year.
- Total theoretical tax liabilities for the year were £739.3 billion.
- There has been a long-term reduction in the tax gap as a proportion of theoretical liabilities: the tax gap reduced from 7.5% in the tax year 2005 to 2006 to 4.8% in 2021 to 2022 – remaining low and stable between the years 2017 to 2018 and 2021 to 2022.
- Criminal activity and evasion accounted for £4.1billion loss in tax collected.
- 30% of all underpayments of tax were due to a failure to take reasonable care, while 13% of instances were down to evasion.
A massive 56% of the tax gap is made up by small businesses (up from 40% of the total in 2017-18). Whether this is down to HMRC improving collection from large businesses or an increasing failure to crack down on small business is a moot point. It remains to be seen how HMRC react to this new information, but experience insists that small businesses may expect increased attention for the authorities.
The VAT gap
- VAT represents 21% of the overall tax gap.
- The VAT tax gap is 5.4%.
- The absolute VAT gap is £7.6 billion.
- The VAT gap has reduced from 14.0% of theoretical VAT liability in 2005 to 2006 to 5.4% in 2021 to 2022.
More than two thirds of the theoretical VAT liability was estimated to be from household consumption. The remainder came from the expenditure by businesses that supply goods and services where the VAT is non-recoverable (they are exempt from VAT), and from the government and housing sectors.
Information on the method used to estimate the VAT gap is here for those interested (I don’t imagine that there will be that many…).
So, £7.6 millions of VAT is missing. That seems an awful lot.
Digital Euro introduction delayed
The European Commission’s proposal for the introduction of a digital Euro has been delayed.
The adoption was planned for 28 June 2023, but this has now been postponed. There is currently no news on a new date.
What is digital Euro?
As a digital form of central bank money, the digital Euro will offer greater choice to consumers and businesses in situations where physical cash cannot be used. However, the digital euro would be a complement to cash, which should remain widely available and useable.
A digital Euro would offer an electronic means of payment that anyone could use in the euro area. It would be secure and user-friendly, like cash is today. As central bank money issued by the ECB, it would be different from “private money”, but you could also use a card or a phone app to pay with digital euro. It is intended to provide an anchor of stability for our money in the digital age.
Further details here.
HMRC has completely rewritten its manual VRM7000 on VAT repayments and set-off.
When a business makes a claim for VAT (for whatever reason) HMRC have the power to set-off a payment against other amounts due.
HMRC also has a discretion to take account of any taxpayer liabilities in other regimes HMRC administers such as corporation tax or excise duty.
In summary, the new guidance covers:
Inherent set-off via The VAT General Regulations 1995, Section 80(2A) and Regulation 29. This is where, say, a supply was incorrectly treated as standard rated when it was exempt. It would not be possible to claim the overcharged output tax (subject to unjust enrichment) without recognising the potential overclaim of input tax as a result of partial exemption.
Set-off under The VAT Gen Regs 1995, Section 81(3) HMRC. This covers HMRC liability to only pay a claim after setting off any VAT, penalties, interest or surcharge owed to it. Section 81(3) is mandatory and applies to the current liabilities of a taxpayer, regardless of the period incurred.
Set-off under section 81(3A). This is a special provision which requires HMRC to set any liabilities that would otherwise be out-of-time to assess, against any amounts for which HMRC is liable under a claim. It does this by disregarding the assessment time limit, to undo all the consequences of a mistake.
VAT group set-offs. When a company leaves a VAT group, it is still jointly and severally liable under section 43(1) VAT Act 1994 for any outstanding debts of the group incurred while the company was a member. Any VAT claim by the ex-member will be subject to set-off against these group debts.
Set-offs against other taxes and duties. HMRC has the discretion under Section 130 of the Finance Act 2008 to set-off debts due from any other tax regimes HMRC is responsible for. This is subject to the insolvency rules in section 131 Finance Act 2008. A taxpayer should always check that no further liabilities have arisen since the claim was made.
Transfers of rights to claim to another person (Section 133 of the Finance Act 2008) – A claim will be subject to set-off of any outstanding liabilities to HMRC from both transferor and transferee. NB: HMRC policy is to make reasonable efforts to recover outstanding debts from the original creditor before applying set-off to the current creditors claim.
Updated Notice 700 – The VAT guide
HMRC updated Notice 700 on 9 June 2023.
VAT MOSS references to credit notes for supplies of digital services, the annual accounting scheme, and monthly tax periods have been removed.
Updates also reflect the introduction of VAT late submission and late payment penalties, as well as the new interest regime in paragraphs 2.7, 19.9, 21.1, 21.2.1, 21.6, 27.1 and 28.
What is reasonable care, and why is it important?
HMRC state that “Everyone has a responsibility to take reasonable care over their tax affairs. This means doing everything you can to make sure the tax returns and other documents you send to HMRC are accurate.”
If a taxpayer does not take reasonable care HMRC will charge penalties for inaccuracies.
Penalties for inaccuracies
HMRC will charge a penalty if a business submits a return or other document with an inaccuracy that was either as a result of not taking reasonable care, or deliberate, and it results in one of the following:
- an understatement of a person’s liability to VAT
- a false or inflated claim to repayment of VAT
The penalty amount will depend on the reasons for the inaccuracy and the amount of tax due (or repayable) as a result of correcting the inaccuracy.
How HMRC determine what reasonable care is
HMRC will take a taxpayer’s individual circumstances into account when considering whether they have taken reasonable care. Therefore, there is a difference between what is expected from a small sole trader and a multi-national company with an in-house tax team.
The law defines ‘careless’ as a failure to take reasonable care. The Courts are agreed that reasonable care can best be defined as the behaviour which is that of a prudent and reasonable person in the position of the person in question.
There is no issue of whether or not a business knew about the inaccuracy when the return was submitted. If it did, that would be deliberate and a different penalty regime would apply, see here It is a question of HMRC examining what the business did, or failed to do, and asking whether a prudent and reasonable person would have done that or failed to do that in those circumstances.
HMRC consider that repeated inaccuracies may form part of a pattern of behaviour which suggests a lack of care by a business in developing adequate systems for the recording of transactions or preparing VAT returns.
How to make sure you take reasonable care
HMRC expects a business to keep VAT records that allow you to submit accurate VAT returns and other documents to them. Details of record keeping here They also expect a business to ask HMRC or a tax adviser if it isn’t sure about anything. If a business took reasonable care to get things right but its return was still inaccurate, HMRC should not charge you a penalty. However, If a business did take reasonable care, it will need to demonstrate to HMRC how it did this when they talk to you about penalties.
Reasonable care if you use tax avoidance arrangements*
If a business has used tax avoidance arrangements that HMRC later defeat, they will presume that the business has not taken reasonable care for any inaccuracy in its VAT return or other documents that relate to the use of those arrangements. If the business used a tax adviser with the appropriate expertise, HMRC would normally consider this as having taken reasonable care (unless it’s classed as disqualified advice)
Where a return is sent to HMRC containing an inaccuracy arising from the use of avoidance arrangements the behaviour will always be presumed to be careless unless:
The inaccuracy was deliberate on the person’s part, or the person satisfies HMRC or a Tribunal that they took reasonable care to avoid the inaccuracy
Meaning of avoidance arrangements
Arrangements include any agreement, understanding, scheme, transaction, or series of transactions (whether or not legally enforceable). So, whilst an arrangement could contain any combination of these things, a single agreement could also amount to an arrangement. Arrangements are `avoidance arrangements’ if, having regard to all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to conclude that the obtaining of a tax advantage was the main purpose, or one of the main purposes of the arrangements.
Using a tax adviser
If a business uses a tax adviser, it remains that business’ responsibility to make sure it gives the adviser accurate and complete information. If it does not, and it sends HMRC a return that is inaccurate, it could be charged penalties and interest.
Before any question of reasonable excuse comes into play, it is important to remember that the initial burden lies on HMRC to establish that events have occurred as a result of which a penalty is, prima facie, due. A mere assertion of the occurrence of the relevant events in a statement of case is not sufficient. Evidence is required and unless sufficient evidence is provided to prove the relevant facts on a balance of probabilities, the penalty must be cancelled without any question of reasonable excuse becoming relevant.
None of us are perfect
Finally, it is worth repeating a comment found in HMRC’s internal guidance “People do make mistakes. We do not expect perfection. We are simply seeking to establish whether the person has taken the care and attention that could be expected from a reasonable person taking reasonable care in similar circumstances…”