Prepare for the VAT rate rise in January 2010

By: Raphael Coman

Date: 22 December 2009

Just as you were getting used to the VAT rate at 15 per cent, it’s nearly time for the rate to change again. From the 1 January 2010, the rate will be going back up to 17.5 per cent, after 13 months at the lower level. Many businesses are already using the change to encourage customers to make purchases before the start of 2010, but there are other ways to benefit from the lower VAT rate. The VAT rate that applies is established by the tax point. If the tax point is before 1 January, then the rate to apply will be 15%. The tax point is the earlier of the date the invoice is issued, the date money is received and the date that the goods are delivered or the service is completed. As an exception, if an invoice is raised within 14 days of the supply of goods, then the invoice date will become the tax point. Therefore, you may wish to consider the following options that may be attractive to customers:

  1. You may accept a deposit or a pre-payment before 1 January 2010, which will be charged at 15 per cent.
  2. You provide goods or services in December and more than 14 days before the issue of the invoice. For instance, you must apply VAT at 15 per cent for goods or services supplied before 18 December, for invoices raised on 1 January 2010.
  3. Where you supply a service over a period spanning the rate change, it is possible to charge VAT according to the value of work done before the 1 January. Be careful, though, because you must be able to show that the way that you have split the value of the work is fair.

There are special rules to prevent avoidance of VAT by establishing a tax point before the new rate comes into force. Under the rules, a 2.5 per cent VAT charge will apply where:

  • The total value of sales are more than £100,000 (and the advance invoice or pre-payment is not normal commercial practice)
  • The supplier and customer are connected
  • Payment is due more than six months after the invoice date or
  • you provide funding for your customer to make a pre-payment.

HMRC has indicated it will only seek adjustment to an error on a VAT return relating to the rate change where there has been an overall revenue loss. With careful planning, there are ways to reduce the impact of the VAT change on your business, but the fact of the rate rise is unavoidable. To prevent misunderstanding, it may be prudent to start making your customers aware as early as possible of the VAT change and any increase in prices that will result.

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