October 20, 2023
10 min read

VAT Return Essentials: Everything You Need To Know

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Taxes might not be the most interesting topic to discuss in a social setting, but there are only a few acronyms that carry as much weight as VAT - Value Added Tax. It's the silent contributor to the economy, the financial backbone that fuels government revenues, 

Value-added tax (VAT) is a significant part of the taxation system in many countries around the world. The United Kingdom, for example, relies heavily on VAT for tax collection. According to statistics, more than £159.53 billion in tax revenue was generated by the VAT during the fiscal year 2022–2023. 

Therefore, it is crucial that you as a business owner fully understand VAT in order to play the VAT game confidently.

What Is VAT?

Every time a product or service is produced or distributed, a consumption tax known as the Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied on the value that is added. The customer is the ultimate payer of the commodity or service even though businesses collect and return the tax to the government. This is because it is a sort of indirect taxation. The VAT is a common method of raising funds used to fund government programs and services in many countries throughout the world.

How VAT is Applied To Goods And Services

VAT is assessed at every stage of the supply chain, as opposed to traditional sales taxes, which are only levied at the moment of sale to the final consumer. Here is a thorough explanation of how commodities are subject to VAT.

  1. Initial Stage: Manufacturer/Supplier to Retailer:

The VAT process typically begins when a manufacturer or supplier produces goods or provides services. At this stage, the manufacturer incurs VAT on raw materials, labor, and other inputs used in production.

The manufacturer charges VAT when selling the finished goods or services to a retailer. This VAT collected is referred to as "output VAT."

  1. Middle Stage: Retailer to Wholesaler/Distributor:

The retailer, upon purchasing goods from the manufacturer or supplier, adds its margin to the product's price. VAT is charged on this added value.

The retailer collects VAT from the customer when selling the goods or services. The amount of VAT collected includes both the manufacturer's output VAT and the retailer's own output VAT.

The retailer can deduct the input VAT (VAT it paid to the manufacturer or supplier) from the output VAT collected from customers. The resulting amount is the net VAT owed to the tax authority.

  1. Final Stage: Retailer to End Consumer:

When the end consumer purchases the goods or services from the retailer, VAT is once again applied. The consumer pays the full VAT amount on the product's price.

When Is VAT Return Due?

Quarterly Returns: Most businesses in the UK file VAT returns on a quarterly basis. A month and a week after the end of the VAT quarter, the deadline for quarterly VAT returns is customarily set. The deadline for submitting the return and making the payment, for instance, is May 7th if your VAT quarter finishes on March 31st.

Returns on an annual basis: Some companies may be eligible for the Annual Accounting Scheme, which enables them to submit VAT returns and make payments on a yearly basis. Annual VAT returns are normally due two months following the conclusion of the accounting year.

Who Needs To File VAT Returns?

The filing requirements for Value Added Tax (VAT) returns apply to both enterprises and individuals who have registered for VAT. Who in the UK is required to submit VAT returns is summarized below:

Businesses Over the VAT threshold: If a business's taxable turnover (the total quantity of goods and services sold that are subject to VAT) exceeds the VAT threshold of £85,000 in the last 12 months or is expected to increase above £85,000 within upcoming 3- days, such businesses must register for VAT and file VAT reports. 

Voluntary Registration: Even if their taxable turnover is below the VAT level, businesses have the option to voluntarily register for VAT. Businesses who seek to recoup input VAT on their purchases or gain customers' trust may find this advantageous.

Overseas Businesses Selling in the UK: If certain conditions are met, firms from outside the UK that sell taxable products or services in the UK may also be required to register for VAT and submit VAT returns. No matter where they are located, this usually applies to companies that make taxable supplies in the UK.

Benefits Of Voluntary VAT Registration

Voluntary VAT registration in the United Kingdom can offer several benefits to businesses. 

  • One of the primary benefits of VAT registration is that it allows you to reclaim the VAT you've paid on business expenses (input VAT). This can reduce your overall operating costs.
  • Being registered for VAT can give your company a more established and reliable appearance, which can be helpful when interacting with customers and suppliers, especially bigger businesses.
  • For conformity with customs and export/import processes, VAT registration may be required if you intend to engage in foreign trade.
  • Voluntarily registering for VAT allows you to manage your VAT threshold. When your turnover approaches the threshold, you can start charging VAT and recover input VAT, which may result in a smoother transition when mandatory registration becomes necessary.

How To Register For VAT

Online registration for VAT is possible with an HMRC account. Let's examine the VAT registration procedure step by step.

Determine Your VAT Eligibility:

Before registering, ensure that your business is eligible for VAT. If a company's taxable turnover reaches the current VAT registration level, it must register for VAT in the UK. Gather the necessary data and papers, such as your company's legal name, trading name, business address, contact information, National Insurance number (if necessary), and information on your operations and revenue to register for VAT.

Choose the Appropriate VAT Scheme:

Decide on the VAT scheme that best suits your business. Common schemes include the Standard VAT Scheme, Flat Rate Scheme, and Cash Accounting Scheme. Your decision will be influenced by the size, sector, and particulars of your company.

Create an Online HMRC Account:

Go to the HMRC website and start creating your account. This step is mandatory to register for VAT online.

Register Online:

Log in and begin the online VAT registration process after you have an HMRC online account. You must include proper firm information on the VAT registration form. Review the data for accuracy after completing the registration form, then send the application to HMRC.

Receive VAT Registration Certificate:

Once the registration is successful, HMRC will send you a VAT registration certificate.This certificate has your  VAT registration number and the effective date of your VAT registration.

File VAT Returns:

You may need to submit VAT returns on a regular basis (often monthly, quarterly, or annually) through the HMRC web portal, depending on the VAT scheme you've chosen. Report the VAT you've acquired and paid, and send HMRC any outstanding VAT.

HMRC VAT Login And Online Filing

The steps for using the HMRC online system for VAT are as follows:

  1. HMRC Online Account:

To use the HMRC online services, you must either create an HMRC online account or sign in using your existing account if you already have one. To register, go to the HMRC website - https://www.gov.uk/register-for-vat  and click "Sign in to HMRC online services." 

  1. VAT Registration:

Here are the steps to register for VAT online once you have an HMRC online account:

  • Log in to your HMRC account.
  • Under "Manage your VAT account," select "Register for VAT."
  • Include your company's legal and trading names, address, contact details, business activities, and turnover in full on the VAT registration form.

If everything is in order, HMRC will provide you a VAT registration certificate with your VAT registration number and the date your application became effective after reviewing your application for VAT registration.

  1. Online VAT Filing:

Once registered for VAT, you will need to file your VAT returns online. The frequency of filing depends on the VAT scheme you are on and your business's circumstances.

To file your VAT return online, follow these steps:

  • Log in to your HMRC online account.
  • Under "Manage your VAT account," select "Submit VAT return."
  • Complete the online VAT return form with details of your VAT-liable sales and purchases for the specified period.
  • Submit the VAT return.

After submitting the return, you will receive a confirmation from HMRC, and you will be informed of the amount of VAT you need to pay or any VAT refund owed to you.

  1. Making VAT Payments: 

After you've filed your VAT return and calculated how much VAT you need, you can pay the VAT through your HMRC online account. There are a variety of other payment options available, such as bank transfers, direct debit, and credit/debit cards.

Common VAT Return Mistakes To Avoid

Filing a Value Added Tax (VAT) return accurately is essential to comply with tax regulations and avoid penalties. Here are some common VAT return mistakes to avoid:

Missing or Incomplete Invoices: Ensure that you have invoices and supporting documents for all transactions included in your VAT return. Missing or incomplete records can result in discrepancies.

Misclassification of Supplies: Accurately categorize your supplies as either standard-rated, zero-rated, or exempt. Misclassifying supplies can lead to incorrect calculations and potential disputes with tax authorities.

Ignoring Reverse Charge Mechanism: If your business deals with services or goods where the reverse charge mechanism applies (where the recipient accounts for VAT instead of the supplier), make sure to follow the rules and report these transactions correctly.

Failure to Account for Imports and Exports: Properly account for VAT on imported goods and services as well as on exports, including any applicable VAT reverse charge provisions or zero-rating.

VAT Rates 

VAT Exemptions

Items and services that are exempt from UK sales tax include the following: 

Insurance service: The majority of insurance services, including life, health, and property insurance, are free from the VAT.

Financial services: Numerous financial services, such as bank fees, credit transactions, and investment services, are exempt.

Healthcare Services: Registered healthcare practitioners are typically free from paying VAT for medical and dental services they perform.

Postal Services: Postal services for sending letters and parcels within the UK are exempt from VAT.

Residential Property Rentals: Rental income from residential properties is exempt from VAT.

Charitable Activities: Supplies made by charities, as long as they fall within their charitable objectives, may be exempt.

Cultural and Sporting Events: Admission to cultural and sporting events organized by eligible bodies can be exempt from VAT.

Final Word

You should now feel more prepared to handle your VAT duties head-on. With the correct knowledge and strategy, you can use VAT to your advantage and make sure that your company is financially successful. Use this guide as a resource to confidently and skillfully negotiate the VAT landscape as you go with your business.