Constable VAT Focus 9 April 2020


Correcting Errors on Your VAT Return
Due to temporary measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, you can no longer submit Form VAT652 by post. HMRC has set up an email address for taxpayers to submit error correction documents:

VAT Registration Contacts
HMRC has updated its guidance on the correct contact information to use to apply for VAT registration, or an exception to it, as well as making changes to existing registration.

VAT Notice 700/44—Barristers and advocates
This notice updates the June 2007 version with details of the temporary changes introduced in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Until further notice, any forms, returns or correspondences must be sent to HMRC by email instead of post. Any payments should be made electronically.

First-tier Tribunal Tax Chamber administrative centre reduced service
In response to the impact of COVID-19, some temporary changes to the working arrangements at the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber) administrative centre in Birmingham have been announced. Appellants should, where possible, submit notices of appeal online or by email.

Making Tax Digital: Digital Links
HMRC has updated Public Notice 700/22 to reflect the recently announced extension to the deadline for the implementation of digital links. Previously, the deadline was 1 April 2020, this has now been moved to 1 April 2021.

VAT MOSS Exchange Rates
HMRC has released the VAT MOSS exchange rates for 2020 to be used by businesses registered in the UK to complete declarations.


Many businesses and charities are currently adapting their usual business practices in response to the COVID-19 outbreak measures. Some are seeking to improve cash flow and are taking various measures to do so including diversifying from their normal business activities. Whilst business development and sales diversification can certainly create additional income, it is necessary to consider the potential VAT impacts.

Our recent blog on this topic aims to provide an overview of some of the main VAT issues which a business or charity may wish to consider when offering new products for sale or carrying out its activities in a different way. This can be read in full here.

As the ongoing situation with COVID-19 continues to impact businesses, charities and individuals alike, European countries have implemented various measures to assist in reducing the financial consequences. We continue to update our coverage of the various measures being taken in different countries. This can be read here.

Constable VAT are pleased to announce that Laura Krickova has been promoted to partner from 1 April 2020. Laura joined Constable VAT directly from 6th form college in 2008 and we are delighted that she has accepted this new role in the firm and are looking forward to celebrating with her soon.


Supreme Court

1. Supreme Court Judgment in Zipvit

Readers may be familiar with the case of Zipvit, which concerned whether Zipvit, a trader selling vitamins via mail order, was entitled to recover VAT on postal services supplied to it by Royal Mail (RM). RM had treated its supplies to Zipvit as VAT exempt; however, the CJEU subsequently held that the individually negotiated mail services made by RM to Zipvit should have been standard rated for VAT. Zipvit claimed that it was entitled to deduct, as input VAT, the VAT deemed to be included within the invoices which had previously been issued.

HMRC argued that as RM had not charged VAT, Zipvit did not hold valid VAT invoices, meaning that it could not make a valid claim for recovery of that VAT. The matter has been appealed through the Tribunals and Courts, with HMRC being successful in each instance. The matter was appealed to The Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court considered the point and decided unanimously that the legal position under EU law is not clear. Therefore, it referred the following questions to the Court of Justice of The European Union:

  • Is the effect of EU law that, in circumstances such as those at present, the price actually paid by the customer is to be regarded as the combination of a net amount plus VAT, thus allowing the customer to deduct the VAT it has “paid” as input VAT?
  • Whether where the domestic tax authority, the supplier and the customer all misinterpret EU law and treat a taxable supply as exempt, resulting in a non-compliant VAT invoice which stated that no VAT was due, the customer is entitled to recover input tax.

Constable Comment: Zipvit is a lead case with several others stood behind it. In total, the decision is worth around £1billion so the outcome is certainly significant. It will be interesting to see how the CJEU responds to these questions; as The Supreme Court has observed, the law is fundamentally unclear at an EU level. Whilst the UK Court system has consistently held in favour of HMRC, if the CJEU considers that Zipvit is entitled to recover the “deemed” input VAT, there will be potentially significant ramifications throughout the whole EU.

Upper Tribunal

2. VAT Liability of “Day Planners”

This appeal by HMRC is against an FTT decision which determined the VAT liability of “action day planners” to be zero-rated as a book. Thorstein Gardarsson (T/a Action Day A Islandi) sold planners which it described as a time management tool, developed to “help people to grow; to teach and instruct people time management skills”. It is an interactive tool intended to facilitate the discipline of time management. The planners contain a mix of empty pages to be filled in, and pages of text which detail the ethos associated with the planner’s approach to time management.

The FTT had previously observed that the planners should be regarded as books, noting that blank crossword puzzles are books for the purposes of VAT zero-rating, and these contain a mixture of text and blank space to be filled in. HMRC appealed against this on the grounds that, following previous caselaw, a “book” is something which has a main function of being read, not being written in. It contended that the main function of the day planner was to be written in, meaning the planner should be correctly regarded as a standard rated supply.

The Tribunal observed that, where an item can be both read and written in, there must be some form of “tie-breaker” which determines what the main function of the item. Considering that there is significantly more space to be written in than text to be read, the Tribunal held in favour of HMRC. It also noted that this decision is supported as the planners are produced to academic years, suggesting that the main function is to hold written entries relating to a specific academic year.

The appeal was upheld in favour of HMRC.

Constable Comment: This decision goes against the previous ruling of the FTT in this case. The UT found that the FTT had made errors of law in reaching its conclusions. Therefore, the original decision is set aside entirely and will be reconsidered by the FTT in the light of the UT’s direction that the planner is not a book. However, as there is currently a general stay in place over all hearings before the FTT, we do not know when this decision will be reached.

This newsletter is intended as a general guide to current VAT issues and is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of the law. No liability is accepted for the opinions it contains or for any errors or omissions. Constable VAT cannot accept responsibility for loss incurred by any person, company or entity as a result of acting, or failing to act, on any material in this newsletter. Specialist VAT advice should always be sought in relation to your particular circumstance.