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VAT: Ten quirks of the flat rate scheme

12th Feb 2019
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Neil Warren has summarised the top ten pitfalls to be aware of when using the flat rate scheme (FRS) for small businesses.

1. Capital goods which are hired out

In my article flat rate scheme bites back, I considered the case of Apex Vehicle Management Ltd (TC06911). This case illustrated an exception from the opportunity for FRS users to claim input tax on capital goods costing more than £2,000, including VAT, when the asset acquired is being either rented, leased or hired out.

2. Discount on relevant flat rate percentage

There is an automatic one percentage point discount on the relevant flat rate percentage, but it only applies for the first year of VAT registration. This rule even caught out the judge in the Apex case. He noted in his report that the company registered for VAT on 1 June 2012 and joined the FRS on 1 March 2013. He then commented:

“The rate applicable to such activities was 9.5% and the appellant was entitled to a 1% reduction to 8.5% from 1 March 2013 to 28 February 2014.”

Can you spot the error? The 1% discount is only available in the first year of registration ie until 31 May 2013 for Apex, and not the first 12 months that the trader uses the scheme. (VAT Notice 733, para 4.7).

3. No need to record all purchase invoices

The rules for recording invoices digitally under the new Making Tax Digital (MTD) rules are essentially the same as already exist. The only time that purchase invoices need to be recorded digitally by FRS users, under the MTD rules, is if input tax is being claimed on an expense. This will only apply in the case of capital goods costing more than £2,000 including VAT, or for pre-registration input tax.

4. Pre-registration input tax can be claimed

An FRS user can claim input tax on pre-registration expenses on its first return, subject to the usual rules:

  • Goods must have been bought within the four-year window before registration, used by the business during that time and are still owned on its first day of registration.
  • The purchase window for services is restricted to six months before the registration date.

5. The joining threshold is about future sales

The FRS joining threshold anticipates the expected taxable sales in the next 12 months; the historic level of sales is irrelevant. If this figure is less than £150,000 excluding VAT, you can join. There is usually no problem if your estimate proves pessimistic and you exceed this figure, as long as you had a logical basis for your calculations at the time of applying.

6. Rental income is drawn into VAT

The FRS captures both exempt income and zero-rated sales made by the business, but not income that is outside the scope of VAT – the latter would include many business-to-business services supplied to overseas customers.

Example: Nicky is a sole trader hairdresser and is VAT registered, using the FRS. He also lets out a residential property in his own name, which would normally be exempt from VAT as it is not holiday lettings. However, as the trade and the letting are both conducted by the same legal person the exempt rental income is subject to the FRS percentage, so Nicky must effectively pay over VAT on the gross value of his rental income.

7. Jointly owned land is a partnership

Extending the previous example, it would not be a problem if Nicky the hairdresser owned the let property jointly with his wife. For VAT purposes, the letting is now classed as a partnership and therefore the income is received by a different legal entity to his VAT registration. Having the property in joint names means it is not caught up in the FRS operated by Nicky as a sole trader.

8. Leaving test is only made once a year

A business does not need to leave the FRS until its gross annual sales including VAT have exceeded £230,000. For a business with only standard-rated sales, this figure is £191,666 plus VAT. The good news is that a business must only undertake the exit test once a year, on the anniversary date of when it first joined the scheme (VAT Notice 733, section 12).

9. Limited cost trader test

The limited cost trader (LCT) category was introduced on 1 April 2017, and its draconian rate of 16.5% gives minimal credit for input tax. It has wiped out many FRS gains enjoyed by service-based businesses that spend less than £250 a quarter on goods, or less than 2% of their gross turnover. Don’t forget that a business needs to consider whether it is an LCT each time a VAT return is completed.

10: You can leave at any time

The FRS has undoubtedly suffered a reduction in popularity since the introduction of the limited cost trader rules in April 2017. However, a business can withdraw from the FRS at any time. This will usually be at the end of a VAT period, but it can also leave during a period. The mid-period withdrawal could be a useful tax saver in some cases eg before a big zero-rated sale is captured by the calculations.

Further reading

Replies (8)

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By Martin B
12th Feb 2019 14:38

Ten quirks of the flat rate scheme.
For future refrence

Thanks (0)
By NeilW
13th Feb 2019 10:07

My favourite is that software on a physical disk purchased from the EU are goods and the VAT has to be paid on it by adding it to inputs, whereas software that is downloaded from the EU is a service and the reverse charge process can be used.
With modern software recording systems, I struggle to see what the point of the Flat Rate scheme is now.

Thanks (1)
By Nickg
13th Feb 2019 10:18

In respect of Capital Goods expenditure rece
nlty had disallowed by HMRC a contruction of a woodern office costing way in excess of £2,000, but as every invoice was under the £2,000 limit it was disallowed.

Thanks (1)
By hakfort
13th Feb 2019 11:32

Joint letting does not, of itself, make the activity a partnership.

Usually, there won’t be a partnership and the customer’s share from the jointly owned property will be included as part of their personal rental business profits.

Thanks (0)
Replying to hakfort:
By fawltybasil2575
15th Feb 2019 11:21

@ hakfort,

Whilst your comments are valid in relation to Income Tax, they are not relevant (and thus not valid) in relation to VAT.

Hence Neil's comments, to the effect that rents from jointly held property are EXCLUDED from the FRS calculations where the FRS relates to the VAT registration of one of the joint owners, are indeed correct.

In essence, therefore, the rental income from a jointly-held property IS effectively treated as Partnership Income for VAT purposes.


Thanks (0)
By AndrewV12
14th Feb 2019 09:54

Very good article, I did not know point 6 nor 1, point 9 highlights that most of the advantages have gone for business with very little input tax available to claim Thanks George Osborne).

Thanks (0)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
14th Feb 2019 14:19

I only have 2 clients on this now, and both are just on it for the 1st year bonus.

I used to love this scheme but its no good for any services business.

Does anyone have the stats on how many people came off it? I must be in the hundreds of thousands.

Thanks (0)
By myleshv90
16th Feb 2019 14:06

Point 4 regarding the claim of Pre-registration input VAT - must this still conform with the FRS input VAT reclaims - i.e. only on capital goods?
Or does this allow for VAT to be claimed pre-reg like a with a non-FRS registration?

Thanks (0)