VAT retail schemes

VAT retail schemes are a special set of schemes used by retail businesses to account for VAT. The schemes are used by businesses that sell a significant amount of low value and/or small quantity items to the public with different VAT liabilities.

The use of the schemes can save businesses a significant amount of time in calculating the amount of VAT due to HMRC on each sale. In many circumstances, it would be extremely difficult for these businesses to account for VAT using standard VAT accounting. By using the VAT retail scheme, retailers are able to calculate VAT due to HMRC at the standard, reduced and zero rates of VAT as a proportion of sales. Usually this is done on a day by day basis.

There are a number of standard VAT retail schemes:

  • the point of sale scheme
  • two apportionment schemes
  • two direct calculation schemes

There is also the option of using a bespoke scheme. The use of a bespoke scheme is obligatory for retailers with a turnover excluding VAT of £130 million or more.

The decision as to which retail scheme to be used is usually driven by a combination of looking at the scheme that provides the best result for the business in question combined with the cost of using the scheme with the important caveat that HMRC are of the opinion that the chosen scheme is fair and reasonable.

Paying VAT on goods from EU to Northern Ireland

There are special procedures for moving goods in and out of Northern Ireland. Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, all Northern Ireland businesses continue to have access to the whole UK market. 

There is specific guidance published by HMRC that should be followed for goods that are received into Northern Ireland from a supplier in the EU.

  • If you are registered for VAT in the UK and receive goods in Northern Ireland from countries in the EU, you will normally account for the VAT through your VAT Return. You will need to account for the VAT at the same rate that you would have paid if you had bought them from a UK supplier. This VAT is known as acquisition VAT, and you can normally reclaim some or all of this if the acquisitions relate to VAT taxable supplies that you make.
  • If you are not VAT registered and receive goods in Northern Ireland from countries in the EU, your supplier will charge VAT at the local rate in the EU country from which the goods are supplied. If you are not already registered for VAT in the UK and buy goods worth £90,000 (£85,000 prior to 1 April 2024) you may be required to register for VAT.

You may also be required to complete an Intrastat Supplementary Declaration if your acquisitions of goods from the EU exceed an annual amount. The delivery terms threshold for both arrivals and dispatches is currently £24 million.

Spring Budget 2024 – VAT registration threshold changes

The taxable turnover threshold that determines whether businesses should be registered for VAT will increase from £85,000 to £90,000 from 1 April 2024. The taxable turnover threshold that determines whether businesses can apply for deregistration will be increased from £83,000 to £88,000 on the same date. It had been previously announced that the rates would be frozen until 31 March 2026. However, the Chancellor’s announcement makes the first change in 7 years to the rates and has been designed to help SMEs.

Businesses are required to register for VAT if they meet either of the following two conditions:

  1. At the end of any month, the value of the taxable supplies made in the past 12 months or less has exceeded £90,000 (2023-24: £85,000); or
  2. At any time, there are reasonable grounds for believing that the value of taxable supplies to be made in the next 30 days alone will exceed £90,000 (2023-24: £85,000)

Businesses with no physical presence in the UK may also have a liability to be VAT registered in the UK if they supply any goods or services to the UK (or expect to in the next 30 days).

Eligibility for the VAT Flat Rate Scheme

The VAT Flat Rate scheme is open to VAT registered businesses that expect their taxable turnover in the next 12 months to be no more than £150,000, excluding VAT. The annual taxable turnover limit is the total of everything that a business sells during the year that is not VAT exempt.

Under the scheme rules, businesses pay VAT as a fixed percentage of their VAT inclusive turnover. The actual percentage used depends on the type of business. There is a special 1% discount for businesses in their first year of VAT registration.

If any of the following apply, you will not be eligible to join the scheme:

  • you left the scheme in the last 12 months;
  • you committed a VAT offence in the last 12 months, for example VAT evasion;
  • you joined (or were eligible to join) a VAT group in the last 24 months;
  • you registered for VAT as a business division in the last 24 months;
  • your business is closely associated with another business;
  • you’ve joined a margin or capital goods VAT scheme; or
  • you are using the Cash Accounting Scheme.

Once you join the scheme you can usually continue using it provided your total business income does not exceed, or you do not expect it to exceed, £230,000 (including VAT) in a 12-month period. You must also leave the scheme if you expect your total income in the next 30 days alone to be more than £230,000 (including VAT). There are special rules if the increased turnover is temporary.

If you think that the scheme may be beneficial for your business, please get in touch and we can help you consider your options.

Joining or leaving the VAT Cash Accounting Scheme

The VAT Cash Accounting Scheme can offer useful benefits to small businesses. Under standard VAT accounting, VAT is payable on sales whether or not the customer has paid and can lead to claims for Bad Debt Relief. By using the VAT Cash Accounting Scheme no VAT needs to be paid over to HMRC until the customer has paid for his goods / services. Using the scheme, if the customer does not pay, then the VAT is not payable to HMRC.

The scheme can also have cash flow benefits for any business that sells on credit as they only pay VAT on their sales when the customer pays. If you have cashflow concerns, this scheme could be worth a closer look.

By using the scheme, you can only recover the VAT paid on purchases once you have paid your suppliers.

A business can use the VAT Cash Accounting Scheme provided the estimated VAT taxable turnover for the next VAT year is not more than £1.35 million. There is no requirement to notify HMRC, but you must join the scheme from the beginning of a VAT accounting period.

A business can continue to use the scheme until their VAT taxable turnover exceeds £1.6 million. Businesses that stop using the scheme are also not required to notify HMRC. However, they must pay any outstanding VAT whether their customers have paid or not. Any outstanding VAT can be reported and paid over 6 months.

VAT – option to tax property

There are special VAT rules that allow businesses to standard rate the supply of most non-residential and commercial land and buildings (known as the option to tax). This means that subsequent supplies by the person making the option to tax will be subject to VAT at the standard rate.

The ability to convert the treatment of VAT exempt land and buildings as subject to VAT can have many benefits. The main benefit is that the person making the option to tax will be able to recover VAT on costs (subject to the usual rules) associated with the property including the purchase and refurbishment of the property. You do not need to own the land in order to exercise an option to tax.

Any subsequent sale or rental of the property will attract VAT. Where the purchaser or tenant is able recover the VAT charged this is not normally an issue. However, where the purchaser / tenant is not VAT registered or not fully taxable (such as bank) the VAT can become an additional (non-recoverable) cost. Once an option to tax has been made it can only be revoked under limited circumstances so proper consideration of the issue is important.

Using the VAT Flat Rate Scheme

The VAT Flat Rate scheme allows businesses to pay VAT as a fixed percentage of their VAT inclusive turnover. The actual percentage used depends on the type of business. The scheme has been designed to simplify the way a business accounts for VAT and in so doing reduce the administration costs of complying with the VAT legislation.

The scheme is open to businesses that expect their annual taxable turnover in the next 12 months to be no more than £150,000, excluding VAT. The annual taxable turnover limit is the total of everything that a business sells during the year. It includes standard, reduced rate or zero rate sales and other supplies. It excludes the actual VAT charged, VAT exempt sales and sales of capital assets.

A limited cost trader test was introduced in April 2017. Businesses that meet the definition of a 'limited cost trader' are required to use a fixed rate of 16.5% for the scheme. Businesses defined as limited cost traders may find it more beneficial to leave the scheme and account for VAT using traditional VAT accounting.

Once you join the scheme you can continue using the scheme provided your total business income does not exceed £230,000 in a 12 month period. There are some special rules if the increased turnover is temporary. There is also a first year discount for businesses in their first year of VAT registration of 1%.

VAT on period products scrapped

Before Brexit, the UK was unable to zero rate VAT on women’s sanitary products under EU rules and the items were subject to 5% VAT. Following the end of the transition period the UK was no longer bound by the EU VAT Directive which mandated a minimum 5% rate of VAT on all sanitary products, and the VAT charge, known as the ‘tampon tax’, was abolished with effect from 1 January 2021.

The government has now extended the VAT zero rate to period pants. Effective from 1 January 2024, women will save up to £2 on a £12 pair. Many of the UK’s largest retailers including M&S, Primark and Tesco, have committed to pass on the savings, worth 16%. This change was first announced as part of the Autumn Statement 2023 measures after 80 MPs, charities and retailers called on the government to scrap the VAT in August 2023.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury said:

‘This is a victory for women across the UK and for the campaigners who’ve helped raise awareness of the growing importance of period pants.

It’s only right that women and girls can find more affordable options for what has become an essential and environmentally friendly product.’

Since reforming the ‘tampon tax’, the market for period underwear has expanded and they are now a mainstream choice for many women. The scrapping of the current VAT will ensure that period underwear is treated the same as traditional period products.

Do you need to register for VAT in 2024?

The taxable turnover threshold that determines whether businesses should be registered for VAT is currently £85,000. The taxable turnover threshold that determines whether businesses can apply for deregistration is £83,000.

Businesses are required to register for VAT if they meet either of the following two conditions:

  1. at the end of any month, the value of the taxable supplies made in the past 12 months or less has exceeded £85,000; or
  2. at any time, there are reasonable grounds for believing that the value of taxable supplies to be made in the next 30 days alone will exceed £85,000.

This means that you are required to look back over the last 12 months to see if you have a requirement to register and at the same time keep an eye on your future sales if you expect to make taxable supplies over £85,000 in the next 30 days.

The registration threshold for relevant acquisitions from other EU Member States into Northern Ireland is also £85,000.

Businesses with no physical presence in the UK may have a liability to be VAT registered in the UK if they supply any goods or services to the UK (or expect to in the next 30 days).

Flat Rate Scheme annual review

If using the VAT Flat Rate scheme, businesses pay VAT as a fixed percentage of their VAT inclusive turnover. The actual percentage used depends on the type of business. The scheme has been designed to simplify the way a business accounts for VAT and reduce the administration costs of complying with the VAT legislation.

The scheme is open to businesses that expect their annual taxable turnover in the next 12 months to be no more than £150,000, excluding VAT. The annual taxable turnover limit is the total of everything that a business sells during the year. It includes standard, reduced rate or zero rate sales and other supplies. It excludes the actual VAT charged, VAT exempt sales and sales of any capital assets.

As part of an annual review, it is recommended that businesses using the scheme continue to qualify to use the scheme. Businesses that have joined the scheme can continue using the scheme provided their total business income does not exceed £230,000 in a 12-month period. There are also special rules where increased turnover is temporary.

A limited cost trader test was introduced in April 2017. Businesses that meet the definition of a 'limited cost trader' are required to use a fixed rate of 16.5% for the scheme. Businesses defined as limited cost traders may find it more beneficial to leave the scheme and account for VAT using traditional VAT accounting methods.

There is also a first-year discount for businesses in their first year of VAT registration of 1%.