How to specialise in VAT at your accountancy practice

5th Oct 2020
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Accountants that work within general practice might decide they want to specialise in VAT.  As Making Tax Digital and the coronavirus measures taken by the government recently demonstrate, VAT is never far from the minds of legislators and therefore is central to many UK businesses.

Businesses of all sorts will always need help in getting VAT right, and sometimes this requires a high-level of knowledge and experience.

Nonetheless, becoming a qualified VAT specialist can be difficult as it requires significant and expensive study, followed by uncompromisingly tough examinations that can be more about law than number crunching and traditional accounting.

This article will cover the role of a VAT specialist and give practical guidance on how to become successful and what financial support is required.

Why accountants want to specialise in VAT

Those thinking of studying for a VAT specialism should consider their career path and whether they have a mind suited to academic study.

After all, VAT compliance for most clients within an average practice is straightforward, especially if the client uses one of the VAT schemes.

In other words, a VAT qualification is perhaps not required if you simply want to get a better working knowledge of VAT, or even if you wish to enhance your career prospects while remaining in general practice.

Working as a VAT specialist

VAT specialisms are more likely to lead to a career in specialist VAT consultancy or employment with one of the larger firms that take on correspondingly larger clients.

A lot of the work is likely to involve advising on VAT across international borders (especially following Brexit), and as such is often accompanied by awareness in customs, cross-border declarations, and business supply chains.

Working as a VAT specialist can lead to legal work representing clients at tribunals, and in dispute resolution.

It’s been said that a VAT specialist has be a people person because they spend a lot of their time explaining esoteric concepts to others without specialised knowledge.

In short, a VAT specialism can take you a long way from general practice and smaller businesses too.

VAT qualification requirements

The gold standard for anybody desiring a VAT specialism is the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification from the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT).

There are various routes to take through the qualification framework. For starters you’ll need to be able to demonstrate three year tax experience to become a member of Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), plus two professional sponsors who have known you for at least two years.

No actual prior law or accountancy qualifications are necessary to attempt CTA qualification, but the CIOT suggests those without qualifications begin by following the Tax Pathway – a combined qualification between the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) and the CIOT.

Costs for CTA qualifications

Costs for those attempting a CTA membership in 2020 include:

  • A student registration fee of £220
  • Purchase of the latest editions of manuals including Essential Law for Tax Practitioners, Professional Responsibilities and Ethics for Tax Practitioners, and Principles of Accounting (all £45 each)
  • Several examination fees ranging from £180 to £225.

Of course, you’ll also need to purchase course provision and training, which for working people is typically spread across 24 to 36 months.

In terms of cost, training for all the CTA qualification exams cost around £8,000 with a provider when Sage enquired in July 2020.

CTA examinations are in May and November each year, although Coronavirus disruption in 2020 has led to adjusted schedules so you should check ahead of time.

Final thoughts

If you’re hoping to move your career into a VAT specialism, the first step should be to take on as much VAT-related work as possible within your current position.

Learn not only where the limit of your existing knowledge is but try to find friendly individuals who’ve achieved the CTA qualification in order to determine how it affected their careers.

If nothing else, they’ll be able to tell you about any difficulties they encountered, putting you in the best possible starting position.

How can Sage help?

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