5 common VAT problems faced by small businesses 997

Problems with VAT are common, but once you understand the basics of VAT it is reasonably straightforward. There are some areas where it’s easy to make mistakes and this can lead to stringent penalties. Small businesses can avoid most problems with VAT by making sure they deal with all the paperwork correctly.

It makes sense to be aware of some of the more common pitfalls. We have listed below 5 of the most common VAT problems small businesses face.


1.Not including transactions at the right time

Timing is crucial when compiling your VAT returns. Generally, every transaction must be shown in your VAT return if the ‘tax point’ (the point at which VAT is accountable) falls within that particular VAT return period – whether the payment has been received or not.

The tax point is usually the date goods were supplied or services completed. This is known as the basic tax point but there are some variations:

If a VAT invoice is issued or payment made before the basic tax point, the date of invoicing or payment becomes the tax point, whichever is earlier.

  • If you issue a VAT invoice up to 14 days after the basic tax point, the date the invoice was issued becomes the tax point.
  • If you receive a VAT invoice up to 14 days after the basic tax point, you can assume the invoice date is the tax point unless the invoice shows a separate tax point date.
  • With continuous supplies, the tax point occurs when a VAT invoice is issued or payment is made – whichever is earlier.


  1. Making mistakes on the paperwork

It’s easy to make mistakes on your VAT returns.

To avoid any issues all proper VAT invoices must be issued for supplies to VAT-registered businesses. There are a number of requirements that a full VAT invoice should include:

a unique identifying number;

  • the supplier’s name, address and VAT number;
  • the customer’s name and address;
  • the invoice date;
  • the tax point (if different from the invoice date);
  • the type of supply (such as sale or rent);
  • a description of and the amount of goods or services supplied;
  • unit price;
  • any cash discount rate;
  • the VAT rate;
  • the total excluding VAT;
  • the VAT amount and the total payable.

VAT invoice numbers must be sequential, with no unexplained gaps and any duplicate invoices must be clearly marked.


  1. Incorrectly calculating VAT on discounts

Offering discounts can cause problems when it comes to submitting your VAT returns.

The VAT payable depends on how the discount has been offered. If an unconditional discount is given, such as a trade discount, the VAT is based on the discounted value of the full sale. The same applies when offering prompt payment discounts, even if the customer does not pay promptly.


  1. Irreclaimable tax

It can be confusing to know when you can and cannot reclaim VAT on business supplies.

You cannot reclaim VAT on supplies for personal use if bought for both business and non-business use. In these cases, you can apportion the VAT to recover only the business element.

Business can reclaim VAT on some supplies made to employees, such as:

the costs of employees’ subsistence when travelling on business

  • any free meals provided
  • the cost of business mileage paid to employees using their own vehicles.

But VAT cannot be reclaimed on any free accommodation that is provided

Sole traders, partners and directors cannot reclaim VAT on free meals at work, but subject to normal rules can claim for subsistence expenses while on business trips.

When it comes to reclaiming VAT for entertaining, it depends on who is being entertained. VAT on business entertainment for third parties cannot be reclaimed but may be allowed for VAT related to staff entertainment.


  1. Issues with overseas VAT


If you buy or sell goods or services to another country, there are requirements that you need to be aware of.

Imports from another EU country are generally free of any VAT charge but there are some requirements:

  • The supplier must show the customer’s UK VAT number on the sales invoice.
  • UK output VAT must be self-charged and declared in Box 2 of the relevant VAT return.
  • As long as the purchase is used to make VATable supplies the Box 2 VAT can be reclaimed as input VAT in the same return.

Importing goods from outside the EU attracts import VAT at UK rates.

  • The VAT is payable on entry but can be reclaimed as input VAT where a VAT certificate C79 is held.
  • The import may also attract customs duty to be collected by HMRC – this is not recoverable.
  • Payment of both import VAT and duty can be deferred which can speed through entry of goods into the UK.

Trade with the EU requires extra information to be provided:

  • Total dispatches and arrivals are required in boxes 8 and 9 of the VAT return.
  • Details of zero-rated supplies to VAT-registered EU customers must be declared on a separate EC Sales List.
  • Additional Intrastat returns are required if the value of arrivals in a calendar year exceeds £600,000 or the value of dispatches exceeds £250,000.



If you are unsure of any part of your VAT returns or paperwork, it’s important to seek advice before you submit them. Magpie Accountancy can help with any VAT requirements, get in touch if you have any questions or issues you’d like to discuss.






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