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Beware the Domestic Reverse Charge

18th Jan 2019
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ICPA
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Our VAT guru Melanie Lord explains the new building work rules that will come into effect in October 2019

In relation to Making Tax Detail we’ve heard a great deal about HMRC’s continued efforts to close the perceived tax gap, which they tell us MTD will reduce by £4.2bn. The next chapter in the tax gap saga is being imposed on building work from next October in the form of the new Domestic Reverse Charge (DRC), which is estimated to remove a tax gap of £100m. It hardly matters whether these figures are even close to reality; the changes are happening and will affect a lot of businesses.

When I first read about DRC applying to building contractors and sub-contractors I assumed the impact would be fairly limited. Wrong! The name is actually quite misleading. The whole concept of this reverse charge is to remove VAT obligations from the supplier of any building services and impose them instead on the customer. It follows that the new provisions will potentially affect every VAT registered organisation that supplies or buys in any building work. This is why the impact of the new DRC will be huge and everyone should know about the new rules.

Misleading name

The DRC will work in line with the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) by copying much of the legislation across into VAT law. In lots of ways this makes sense, as many of those affected will already be familiar with CIS. However, as the scope of the new DRC seems to be much wider there could be a steep learning curve for some people.

Despite the misleading name, the DRC will apply to all construction, alteration, repair, extension or demolition work, but not if the project qualifies for zero-rating.  The scope of the DRC is vast including installation of heat, light, water and power systems, drainage, erection of scaffolding, civil engineering works and associated site clearance, excavation, foundation works even as far as painting and decorating so we are not only looking at significant projects being affected.

At a time when VAT registered businesses are being overloaded with VAT-related procedure and process changes – in the guise of the double whammy of Making Tax Digital and Brexit in the Spring – October brings a new challenge. The supplier, whether main or sub-contractor, will need to check and validate the customer’s VAT registration status. If the customer is registered, then each supplier in the chain has to issue invoices on a reverse charge basis. Each customer then charges themselves VAT and claims it back according to the normal VAT recovery rules.

It is vital that any affected businesses currently using the Flat Rate Scheme (FRS) leave the scheme before the new rules come into effect. The FRS would leave the same percentage of income due as VAT payable to HMRC even if some of the supplies fall under the DRC so lack of attention here could prove to be very costly.

Any FRS users need to leave it before October 2019.

Importantly, while each of the suppliers in the VAT registered supply chain will not be charging VAT, they will still need to decide on the correct VAT treatment of the supply and will still need to issue VAT invoices:

  • If the customer is not VAT registered then the supplier needs to issue a VAT invoice charging VAT at the right rate.
  • If the customer is VAT registered the reverse charge sales invoice needs to inform the customer that the reverse charge applies.

So every supplier will need to be able to issue sales invoices on two different bases, some charging VAT and others under the reverse charge mechanism. On top of this, we can realistically expect customers to query more invoices and HMRC to query the resulting increased number of VAT repayment claims. As happens now, suppliers will undoubtedly continue to charge VAT when they shouldn’t. This then exposes the customer to either paying VAT and not being able to claim it back as input VAT (because it was not properly chargeable) or having persuade the supplier to correct the original invoice.

All of this seems likely to cause delays and have a negative impact on cash-flow.

Looking from the customer perspective, while the impact of the new provisions has potential to go much further than the building trade, it will only apply where:

  • the customer is either VAT registered (or required to be);
  • the work is being received in connection with a business; and
  • the supply is being onwardly charged – hence not affecting end users.

While this means that developers, landlords and occupiers will be insulated from the change it also points towards uncertainty for the suppliers. Do they charge VAT or apply the DRC? The answer seems to lie in customers having to inform suppliers whether or not they are an end user and therefore whether VAT should be charged in the normal way instead of being reverse charged.

Details of what form this will take are not yet known, except that it should be in a written form that is clearly understood and can be retained for future reference. HMRC have said that if the end user does not provide confirmation of its status it will still be responsible for accounting for the reverse charge so attention to detail will be important.

  • Melanie Lord is Managing Director of AVS VAT. Email [email protected] or call 01438 716 176 if you need help with VAT

What should you do now?

  • Any Flat Rate Scheme users need to leave the scheme before October 2019.
  • Explore how invoicing systems can deal with two different VAT charging bases.
  • Make sure staff as well as main suppliers and customers are aware of the changes.
  • Set up an internal process for gathering and validating the customer’s VAT status.
  • Draft contracts for after October 2019 need to take account of DRC.
  • Prepare a funding plan for potentially delayed VAT refunds.
  • Devise an action plan to protect against customer delays while they adjust to the new process.

This blog is taken from the ICPA website. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the needs of the general practitioner. You can find us at www.icpa.org.uk or email [email protected] or by phone on 0800-074-2896.