Taxes in the UK

Value Added Tax (VAT)

Taxes in the UK

VAT is charged on most goods and services. VAT can only be charged or reclaimed by a VAT-registered business or individual. VAT is charged on certain goods or services sold (output tax) and can be claimed back on VAT paid on goods or services purchased (input tax).

The standard rate of VAT is currently 20% (2014) having increased from 17.5% in 2011; a reduced rate of 5% applies inter alia to domestic fuel or power, heating equipment, children’s car seats, some contraceptives and sanitary products, and certain residential property renovations.

Included in the list of supplies that are zero-rated are gold and UK bank notes, books, children’s clothing, charities, food, drugs & medicines, transport and sewage, water services, goods supplies to other VAT-registered entities within the EU, and certain transactions related to the construction of residential property.

Certain goods and services are exempt from VAT or may fall outside the scope of the UK VAT system. Items exempt from VAT altogether include insurance, credit services, education & training and the services of a doctor or dentist. Selling or leasing commercial property is exempt from VAT, though a business can opt to relinquish the exempt status that would allow VAT payable (input tax) to be reclaimed.

A business or sole trader must register for VAT if the goods or services provided are classed as taxable supplies in the UK, provided annual turnover exceeds GBP81,000 (2014) or is expected to exceed this threshold. In a partnership, one partner should be nominated to execute the VAT returns.


Non-resident businesses or individuals with operations in the UK are still required to register if they meet any of the criteria for registration, subject to the threshold stated above. Non-resident businesses or individuals who have no place of business in the UK, but are nevertheless eligible for VAT registration by merit of: supplying VAT-liable goods or services in, to, or from the UK, assuming control of a VAT-registered business, or receiving VAT liable goods from another EU country must register as a Non-Established Taxable Person (NETP). Since 1 December 2012 as a NETP you must register for VAT upon making any taxable supplies in the UK as the threshold no longer applies to business or establishments which aren't fixed in the UK.

VAT returns must usually be completed every three months. The VAT Return must detail the amount of VAT charged on sales (output) and the amount paid on purchases (input). VAT returns can be submitted online with your VAT number and VAT online account.

 VAT returns are normally due one month after the end of the VAT accounting period. HMRC will specify on which quarterly dates a return is due. Returns filed online must be paid electronically. If VAT is due to be paid, HMRC will allow a further seven days for payment to be made.

If payment of VAT is late a surcharge will be levied by HMRC – usually 2% of the amount of unpaid VAT. Penalties will increase for continued late payment.

The EU VAT directives

As the UK is a member of the European Union, it is subject to European VAT legislation, as defined under the Sixth VAT Directive (2006/112/EC), and therefore, VAT-registered independents operating from the UK will be subject to the VAT directive, to the degree that the UK authorities are bound by it in putting in place standard and reduced rates within the permitted range, and setting the national rules regarding when and how VAT should be charged by registered businesses and individuals.

In addition, independents undertaking imports in excess will be obliged to make declarations for Intrastat purposes. Intrastat has been put in place to collect data on trade in goods between EU member states.

Under new rules coming into force between 2010 and 2015 (with changes relating to telecoms, broadcasting and electronic services delayed until January 1, 2015), business to business (B2B) supplies of services will be subject to VAT in the country in which the consumer is located, rather than the supplier’s country of residence, with the business consumer required to account for VAT using the reverse charge mechanism (whereby they act as both the supplier and the consumer, charging themselves the VAT where appropriate, and then claiming it back).

For business to private consumer (B2C) supplies of services, the place of taxation with regard to VAT will remain as the supplier’s location.

There will, however, be certain exceptions, where the general rules do not apply, and specific rules will be in place, to reflect that the place of taxation should be where the service is consumed. Exempted areas will include: the electronic supply of services, telecommunications and broadcasting, certain catering and hospitality services, scientific and educational supplies, and cultural and sporting services and supplies.

The new rules have effectively removed the advantage of locating in an EU jurisdiction with a low VAT rate, such as Luxembourg or Madeira.

This article is an extract from Personal Business Tax Guide , dated 4th January 2011, for the latest version please click here .

Further reading

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