One must now report imports that are over £873 in value on a Single Administrative Document.
OTHER VAT NEWS
We understand that HMRC has begun to contact firms directly regarding the VAT treatment of electronic searches following the Brabners LLP VAT case summarised on our website. The Law Society has issued guidance which can be viewed here.
VAT recovery, supplying insurance and the benefits of customer location
VAT exempt supplies do not normally provide a right to reclaim VAT on costs incurred in making such supplies. However, certain supplies that would ordinarily give no right to input VAT recovery may be ‘specified’ to do so when the customer is located outside the EU. Follow the link to read our most recent blog, by Robert Thorpe, which explains this further.
1. Retrospective application of VAT exemption schemes
In this matter, the domestic Courts of Hungary ask whether EU law precludes national legislation prohibiting retroactive application of a special VAT exemption scheme for small traders to an eligible, taxable person but who did not declare the commencement of his taxable activities and did not, therefore, opt for the application of that scheme.
In the main proceedings, Mr. Dávid Vámos had made taxable supplies from 2007 until January 2014 seeking to support his usual income. However, he failed to register this activity with the tax authorities, also failing to raise invoices and keep receipts. Following an investigation into his tax affairs, Mr Vámos registered for VAT on 22 January 2014 and opted for application of the exemption. A secondary investigation by the domestic tax authorities revealed a VAT debt. The tax authority took the view that national law did not allow retrospective application of the option to be exempt from VAT and so imposed the relevant penalties.
The question before the Court is whether national legislation preventing the retrospective application of a VAT exemption scheme is contrary to EU law. Mr Vámos contended that he should have been asked if he wished to retrospectively exercise the option when he registered as he was eligible for the scheme.
The Opinion of the Court in this instance is that, given exemption can lead to mixed results for businesses, it cannot be assumed that all taxable persons entitled to an exemption intend to opt for it. Taking into account the effect retrospective application of the exemption would have on previous transactions and other businesses, the Court held it reasonable that the domestic tax authorities require taxable persons to make an express choice of the VAT regime they wish to have applied if it is different to the default regime.
The Court also agreed with Hungarian tax authorities that allowing taxable persons who failed to declare the commencement of their activities to retrospectively exercise that option would give an unfair advantage, distorting competition in their favour, breaking the principle of fiscal neutrality. Concluding, it is asserted that EU law does not preclude national legislation prohibiting retrospective application of special exemption schemes, even in cases where the taxable person fulfils all the material conditions for using the scheme.
CVC Comment: This case should serve as a reminder of the importance of considering tax and legal obligations before, as opposed to after, beginning to carry on what is or could be considered to be a trade.
2. Divergent criminal thresholds for taxation
This request for a preliminary ruling concerned interpretation of the EU law relating to criminal penalties for failing to pay VAT within the time limit prescribed by domestic (Italian) law. The General Provisions of the PFI Convention provide that in cases of serious fraud involving more than €50,000, penalties including imprisonment must be available to Member States.
Italian law provided for the penalty of imprisonment in cases where the taxpayer failed to pay, within the relevant time limits, any VAT owed over €50,000. The same penalties applied to other taxes such as income tax. Subsequent updates to Italian law saw the threshold for imprisonment increase for failure to pay VAT to €250,000.00 and for income tax to €150,000.00.
Whilst much consideration was given to other issues, the questions relating to VAT before the CJEU concerned whether EU law precludes domestic legislation from prescribing different thresholds for criminalising failure to pay VAT and income tax. Consideration was given to the principles of effectiveness and equivalence. The Italian authorities contended that as the two taxes have different collection and administrative regimes and differing degrees of identifiability of fraud, the distinction in penalties was justified.
It was held that neither principle precludes domestic legislation such as that in the main proceedings which provides that failure to pay, within the given time limit, the VAT resulting from the annual tax return constitutes a criminal offence only when the amount of unpaid VAT exceeds €250,000.00 whereas a threshold of €150,000.00 applies to failure to pay income tax.
CVC Comment: This case makes clear that seriously non-compliant taxpayers can face custodial sentences as well as fines. It highlights some of the differences between direct and indirect tax regimes and the judgment reflects an understanding of this.
3.Student Accommodation: Zero-rating Certificate
This appeal concerned the liability of supplies made by Summit Electrical Installations Limited (Summit) as a sub-contractor to a development of student accommodation. Create Construction (Create) had appointed Summit after receiving a zero-rating certificate from the developer stating that the development was for a relevant residential purpose (RRP). As the certificate stated RRP, HMRC contended that only supplies by Create to the developer could be zero-rated and Summit’s supplies should be standard rated as they were sub-contractors. Summit refuted this stating that they could rely on zero-rating provisions as the supplies were made in the course of the construction of a building designed as a number of dwellings.
The FTT agreed with Summit, also considering an issue of planning conditions which HMRC contended prohibited zero-rating; as the buildings must be let to students of certain Universities, there was a prohibition of separate use or disposal of the flats. The FTT dismissed this as the flats could be sold separately so long as students lived in them.
HMRC appealed to the Upper Tribunal (UT) against the decision in relation to the prohibition of separate use or disposal, asserting that the development failed to qualify as “dwellings” due to the alleged prohibition on separate use or disposal. The UT found that, in accordance with case law, for there to be a prohibition on separate use for the purposes at hand there must be a prohibition on the use of the premises separate from the use of some other specific land, a connection to the Universities mentioned in the planning consent was not sufficient. The UT upheld the decision of the FTT and dismissed HMRC’s appeal, allowing Summit’s supplies to be zero-rated as in the course of construction of a building to be used as a number of dwellings.
CVC Comment: This is a positive result for Summit as well as, potentially, for other sub-contractors appointed by Create. This judgment shows the importance of planning before taking on any development projects. Had the Tribunal found differently, Summit and other contractors may have been burdened with a VAT debt.
First Tier Tribunal
4. Adjustments, agreements and time limits
HMRC sought here to strike out an appeal by Buckingham Bingo Limited (BBL) on the grounds that BBL were appealing against a letter from HMRC which did not contain any appealable decision. In 2012, BBL submitted a VAT return which included a reclaim for £1,616,384.44 overpaid output VAT. HMRC promptly issued a decision denying this reclaim and BBL did not appeal on the basis of costs.
Following developments in case law (KE Entertainments Ltd) BBL wrote to HMRC seeking to recover the original amount. HMRC replied on 5 January 2017 stating that they had already ruled on this matter and that BBL had decided not to appeal. It was also noted that there are time limits on adjustments to VAT returns, out of which BBL found itself.
The FTT agreed with HMRC that the time limits relating to adjustments applied and that the letter dated 5 January 2017 did not contain an appealable decision but more reaffirmed an earlier one. BBL argued that it would be unfair if it were not allowed to make an adjustment in the same way as Carlton Clubs and KE Entertainment Limited and so should be granted an extension to make an appeal. The Tribunal dismissed this, placing great weight on the need for finality in decisions and stressing that BBL had already stated in 2012 that it would not appeal the original decision based on costs.
The Tribunal agreed with HMRC, on all grounds, and BBL’s appeal was struck out. It is not granted any extension to amend its notice of appeal.
CVC Comment: It is essential to be aware of all relevant time limits when it comes to making adjustments to VAT returns. This case shows that the Tribunal takes due process seriously and will not agree with the taxpayer because their position might seem unfair. It is also a useful reminder to make sure all communications should be carefully and appropriately worded to prevent interpretive issues arising.
5. Appeal by post: letter not received by Tribunal
This decision relates to an appeal made by Porter & Co (Porter) challenging VAT surcharge liability for VAT periods 05/13 and 11/13, of which it was informed on 4 March 2014. Porter was originally given the right to appeal the surcharge notices within 30 days of receipt.
Porter apparently responded with a notice of appeal on 2 April 2014, however the Tribunal has no record of having received this letter. Indeed, a notice was received but on 31 July 2017. As well as relevant case law, legislation dictates that when “serving” something by post, the service takes place at the time of postage so long as the postage is done correctly. Whilst the appeal was not sent tracked or special delivery, this is not a legal requirement. On the balance of probabilities, the Tribunal found in favour of Porter but in determining when this would have been received, it was concluded that the appeal, had it arrived, would have arrived a day out of time anyway.
The Tribunal needed to consider, therefore, whether permission should be given for the notice of appeal to be given late. As it was only one day out of time and in the interest of not offering prejudice to HMRC, the Tribunal were inclined to give permission for the late notice and held in favour of Porter.
CVC Comment: The Tribunal gave this ruling a caveat that, had they not found the original notice for appeal was only one day out of time, it would not have been inclined to give permission. Had the Tribunal ruled it received the notice on 31 July 2017 then it would have been three years late and this would have been too long. This is a demonstration that the Tribunal will take timing and intention into account when dealing with taxpayers.