This VAT Focus provides the usual updates of HMRC news, in particular some of the issues presenting themselves and hindering the implementation of the VAT Mini One Stop Shop and Making Tax Digital. Some of the most recent developments from the Tax Tribunal and Court of Justice of the European Union including the decision in the Volkswagen Financial Services UK case and the Ryanair decision are also considered.
HMRC has issued a partnership pack designed to help support businesses preparing for day one in the event of a “no deal” Brexit. This includes detailed information about importing and exporting goods in the event of a “no deal” Brexit alongside advice and guidance letters to traders and technical notices to support communications between businesses and their customers. We recommend that you read this pack to be best prepared for the event of “no deal”.
Check the availability and any issues affecting Making Tax Digital for VAT change of business details service.
Our coverage and analysis of the Budget is found on our website. The last Budget announcement before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU took place on 29 October 2018 but is of particular interest given the current lack of clarity around the UK’s future trading position with the EU. Constable VAT will offer continued coverage of all VAT related issues and updates in the run up to the UK’s scheduled exiting of the EU.
1. The recoverability of input VAT incurred in a failed takeover bid
This case concerns Ryanair’s bid to take over Aer Lingus. Despite failing with its bid, Ryanair incurred significant VAT costs in relation to consultancy services. Ryanair claimed a deduction of this VAT, which was denied by the Irish tax authorities on the grounds that acquisition and holding of shares does not constitute an economic activity within EU law.
Two questions were before the CJEU in this instance; whether an intention to provide management services to a takeover target is sufficient to establish that the acquirer is involved in an economic activity for the purposes of VAT recovery and if there can be a direct and immediate link between professional services rendered in the context of such a potential takeover and the potential provision of management services giving rise to a right to deduct input VAT.
Giving regard to previous case law and relevant EU law, the Court agreed with the previous Opinion of the AG that the activity of preparing for a takeover is a taxable activity giving rise to a right to deduct input VAT incurred, even where the takeover did not take place, when the intent of the acquiring company is to make taxable supplies with the company being acquired.
Constable Comment: Whilst this decision works in favour of Ryanair immediately, it will be interesting to see how HMRC interpret and legislate this. It seems from this decision that the right to deduct input tax may apply in such instances where input VAT is incurred in relation to intended taxable supplies which never actually take place.
2. Method of attribution of input VAT in hire purchase agreements
This referral from the UK Supreme Court concerned the correct method of attribution of VAT on overhead costs associated with the provision of hire purchase cars.
Volkswagen Financial Services (VWFS) is a UK company which makes supplies of cars on hire purchase terms, this type of transaction is regarded as two supplies; one taxable supply of goods and another exempt supply of credit. The dispute arose between VWFS and HMRC around the extent to which ‘residual’ input tax related to taxable supplies and, therefore, was recoverable by VWFS.
HMRC contended, in line with its policy, that the overheads must be built into the price charged for the supply of credit as VWFS made no profit on the sale of the actual car itself (it sold the car at cost only additionally charging for credit), therefore residual input tax was irrecoverable as it was directly attributable to an exempt supply of credit. VWFS sought to apply a 50% recovery rate to the residual input VAT by giving equal weight to the two parts of the transaction using a partial exemption special method.
The Court held that there are two supplies in hire purchase agreements such as those in the proceedings, a point which was never in dispute. However, it was found that VWFS should be entitled to recover a proportion of the residual input VAT on the basis that it related to a hire purchase agreement as a whole which is, by its nature, a supply of both taxable and exempt supplies. It suggested that the best method of calculating the recovery percentage for residual input VAT is a turnover based partial exemption calculation and this should only be deviated from where a different method guarantees a more accurate result.
Constable Comment: HMRC have historically not allowed recovery of input VAT which cannot be associated with the price of a taxable output. In this case the taxable output was zero as there was no profit margin on the sale of the car by VWFS. This judgment will be of relief to hire purchase providers of cars who have now received some clarification around their position in terms of residual input VAT recovery.
First Tier Tribunal
3. Place of supply issues with non-business activities
This was an appeal against HMRC’s decision to refuse claims for repayment of overpaid VAT to Wellcome Trust Limited (WTL) amounting to £13,113,822. WTL is the sole trustee of a charitable trust which makes grants for medical research in the UK, the majority of these grants are given from investment funds.
The question at hand related to a place of supply issue, HMRC contending that WTL was liable to account for output VAT in the UK under the reverse charge provisions on investment management services they had received from non-EU suppliers and WTL arguing that the place of supply of was not the UK and, therefore, that no output VAT should have been accounted for.
There was no dispute of facts in this hearing and the result focussed entirely around the meaning of “acting as such” within the EU law which states that “The place of supply of services to a taxable person acting as such shall be the place where that person has established his business”. HMRC’s contention was that WTL were acting in a taxable capacity whilst WTL argued that the investment management services were provided in relation to its non-economic activity of grant distribution meaning that the place of supply, pursuant to the EU law, would be outside the UK.
The FTT gave much consideration to EU legislation as well as case law and concluded that WTL was not liable to account for VAT on the supplies received under the reverse charge procedure as it was not receiving the services in connection with any taxable activity, the place of supply rule determined by where the supplier belongs rather than WTL.
Constable Comment: This case is likely to escalate further up the Tribunal and Court system as the amounts involved are substantial. Any businesses who incur irrecoverable VAT on supplies received from overseas in relation to economic but non-business activities should consider the potential impact of this judgment on their potential to make a historic reclaim of overpaid VAT.
4. Reasonable excuses for failure to pay
This appeal is against a VAT default surcharge for Chameleon Technology’s failure to submit payments of VAT due by the relevant due dates. Chameleon lacked funds to make the payments which, whilst not a reasonable excuse in itself, case law has established a principle that the underlying cause of an insufficiency of funds may constitute such a reasonable excuse.
Chameleon did not dispute its payments being late but claimed that their application for “Time to Pay” was not considered by HMRC which meant it did not have an opportunity to discuss the cash flow issues or agree a payment plan.
The cause of Chameleon’s cash flow issues were unforeseeable and uncontrollable, the first being Typhoon Nida, a sever tropical storm which caused manufacturing in China as well as local supply chains to halt for an extended period. The second was Apple “block-booking” air freight from China to the UK in preparation for release of the iPhone 7 which presented a further breakdown in the supply chain outside of Chameleon’s control. HMRC sought to argue that insufficiency of funds was not a reasonable excuse for late payment.
The Tribunal established that the reasons for Chameleon’s late payment were two unforeseeable and unexpected events outside of their own control. Chameleon had done everything in its power to be compliant and exercise reasonable foresight and, therefore, the surcharge was dismissed.
Constable Comment: There are well established reasonable excuses that are regarded as acceptable and insufficiency of funds is specifically not included in the list of allowable excuses. However, this case shows that where events entirely out of a business’s control lead to an insufficiency of funds then there is a need to look through the facts to the causes.
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This email 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.