VAT Basics – Part 2

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Last time we looked at the basic principles of VAT and how it is paid to and from HMRC.  Now we are going to talk about whether you should register for VAT.

Do I need to register for VAT?

If your trading income is £85,000* or more over a 12 month period then you must register for VAT. Note that this is your income not your profit, and that it requires you monitor your income in a way that is perhaps not intuitive. If you think you might be nearing the threshold it is important that you start to monitor on a rolling 12 month basis as there are fines for not letting HMRC know within 30 days of breaching the threshold. A rolling 12 month basis is looking at the current month and the previous 11 months as one year. Most businesses tend to look at their financial year only, so this is a slightly different way of thinking about their business.

Should I voluntarily register for VAT?

It is worth considering voluntarily registering for VAT if you are likely to be reclaiming more VAT than you will be due to pay. This could possibly if VAT on your purchases is a much higher than those on your sales, possibly because you are a seasonal business. It is also possible all of your customers are VAT registered and you think it would have no impact on their decision to purchase from you if you were to also charge them VAT and therefore you would be in a better position as you would be able to reclaim the VAT on your purchases.

It will be worth working through all of the consequences voluntarily registering for tax before you do so.

Impact of registering for VAT

As soon as you are registered for VAT, you will need to charge it on all sales to all customers. This will mean that your prices will increase, however if your customer is also VAT registered then it should hopefully not have a significant impact for them.

You will also need to submit VAT returns to HMRC. There is a lot of record keeping involved in this, and it will incur more expense with your accountant or take up more of your time.

Different rates of VAT

There are three different rates of VAT as well as an exemption for certain goods. Most goods or services will be Standard Rated. This means that they will incur the highest rate of VAT which is currently 20%.*

The next category is reduced rate VAT of 5%. Some goods and services will fall into this category. Items such as children’s car seats and home energy supplies fall into this. Other items fall into the 0% rate of VAT. These are things like food and children’s clothes. The idea is to reduce the burden on the consumer for some of the most essential items.

However the logic of HMRC is a thing of mystery. Certain items will fall into one category whereas other extremely similar items will fall into another category. The well known Jaffa Cake court case was about which category they would fall into in terms of VAT.

Some goods are exempt from VAT. The main difference between this and the zero-rated supplies is due to technical issues around reclaiming VAT on your purchases. Examples of exempt items are insurance, education, fundraising, membership subscriptions and sales of certain properties.

Final part

In the final part of the exciting VAT trilogy, we will talk about the choices you might have to make when registering for VAT as well as the exciting things that may happen in the future. Hold on to your hats!


* Note that these are the current numbers as of November 2018. If you are reading this at a later date, please ensure that you check the latest figures.

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