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  • Writer's pictureMike Evans

New to standard rate VAT?

Updated: Jul 26, 2018


Since the new legislation on flat rate VAT came in in April thousands of small businesses have been forced into making the change over to standard rate VAT.  It’s clear that the added administration and complexity is putting extra pressure on small business directors so we created this guide to help you when deciding how to operate under standard rate VAT.  What is standard rate VAT?  This may seem like a very simple question with an answer like ‘It’s charging your clients 20% tax on top of your fees while claiming back 20% on your expenses and sending the difference to HMRC’ but it’s not that simple.  What happens when expenses are zero rated or have reduced rate VAT?  What happens if I recharge my expenses to a client? What if the expenses are incurred overseas?  What if my client is overseas?  What if my client isn’t VAT registered?  We will endeavor to answer these questions in the following guide.

Claiming VAT on expenses

We obviously can’t go through every expense and give you the correct VAT treatment but we will go through the most common expenses for businesses and the expenses that most people get wrong.

  • Buying materials or products to sell on to clients, professional fees, computer equipment, hotels, phone bills, fuel, stationery and eating at restaurants are almost always subject to 20% VAT.

  • Bank charges, books, journals, insurance, professional subscriptions, public transport (including flights) and postage are almost always 0% VAT.

Then there are grey areas like parking, rent, subcontractor costs, and food on the go that get a little more complex.

  • On-street parking is usually 0%, while car parks usually have VAT.

  • Rent in office blocks or industrial estates are almost always subject to VAT while smaller, isolated properties can often be owned by non-VAT registered landlords so they can’t charge VAT.

  • Subcontractors are usually VAT registered if they deal primarily with businesses but most operate under the VAT threshold so it’s not always the case.

  • Food is perhaps the most complex area of VAT and where most mistakes occur as whether the food is hot or cold makes a difference as well as whether you take it away or eat at the establishment.  It’s also worth noting that if the food is purchased for entertaining purposes you cannot recover any of the VAT. The complexity can go as far as a gingerbread man being zero rated if it only has chocolate eyes but subject to 20% if they’ve painted him some chocolate trousers so we’re not going to go into every detail here so if you’re unsure, ask your accountant or if you’re feeling brave you could consult HMRC’s official notice on the topic.

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