Draft regulations to enable MTD for VAT reporting expose the muddled thinking behind the digitally linking of accounting software and spreadsheets.
Draft VAT regulations, and a notice to require taxpayers to comply with MTD reporting, were released for consultation on 18 December 2017, with a deadline for commenting set at 9 February 2018. This consultation period fits neatly over the busiest period for accountants and tax advisers, thus reducing the likelihood of detailed feedback from those who will be at the sharp end of the MTD regime, but I’m sure that is just a coincidence.
What HMRC calls “functional compatible software” must be used record and preserve prescribed VAT related data (see below). That software must be used to calculate the VAT due, report the VAT figures (as per the current VAT return) to HMRC via an API, and to receive information back from HMRC.
The VAT related data includes: for each sale and purchase the business; the time of the supply, value and rate of VAT charged, or in the case of purchases, the amount of input VAT allowed. There is no requirement in the draft regulations that the electronic recording of this data must be done at the time the supply is made, or when the purchase is received. As long as the data is recorded electronically by the earlier of the date that the VAT return must be submitted, or is actually submitted, this will be sufficient (reg 32A para 8).
Mix and match
The business can use more than one piece of software to keep its digital records, but those separate software programmes must be “digitally linked”. HMRC provides three examples in the draft notice of what it means by digitally linked:
- The business records transactions in accounting software (A), transfers the totals to spreadsheet (B) where adjustments are made for say partial exemption, then it uses another software package (C) to transfer the totals to HMRC. The transfer of data between A, B and C must all be done digitally.
- The business uses accounting software to record all its transactions and to submit the VAT return. However, it uses a spreadsheet to work out the VAT adjustment on road fuel scale charges. That adjustment is manually typed into the main accounting package as a journal entry. As the road fuel adjustments are not part of the records which are prescribed to be kept digitally, the manual journal entry is permitted and the business is compliant with the MTD regulations.
- A VAT group uses three different accounting packages (A1, A2, A3) for different companies in the group. The totals are collected in a spreadsheet (B) to create the VAT figures needed for the group VAT return. Spreadsheet B is then digitally linked to another software package (C) which is used to submit the group VAT return to HMRC. As long as software family A is digitally linked to B, which is also digitally linked to C, the requirements of the MTD regulations are met.
The digital linking of the accounting software to other submission software or to any spreadsheets used will apparently be a legal requirement, but the definition of exactly what digital linking means isn’t included in the draft VAT regulations currently out for consultation.
The reasoning behind digital linking is to avoid errors being introduced by human hand, but as it will be acceptable to make manual journal adjustments, and to perform manual calculations on spreadsheets as part of the process, the logic behind the digital linking falls completely flat.
It is clear from the slide pack provided with the draft regulations, the taxpayer will be permitted to record his transactions in a spreadsheet and transmit that spreadsheet by email or even on a USB stick to his tax agent. The agent then imports the data electronically from the spreadsheet into his own accounting software which is used to submit the figures to HMRC.
What remains the same
The VAT reporting dates won’t be changed. Businesses will report their VAT information by the same deadlines and for the same VAT quarters as they do currently. There will be no requirement to change VAT quarters to align with the accounting period or tax year, if those quarters do not already align.
The data provided to HMRC will be exactly the same as the totals currently submitted in the nine boxes of the VAT return. No additional information to back-up those totals will be required, but businesses will have the option to voluntarily submit supplementary data, such as the split of sales between different rates of VAT.
A business may be exempt from MTD reporting on any of the following grounds:
- Its turnover for the year ending with previous month is less than the VAT registration threshold;
- The owners are practising members of a religious society, whose beliefs prevent the use of computers;
- Disability of individual, or location of the business, which makes it impractical to use digital tools; or
- It is subject to insolvency procedures.
If one of these circumstances applies the business will have to contact the VAT helpline to discuss alternative arrangements to submit their VAT figures. A business can’t choose to be exempt. If it is in fact exempt from MTD reporting, it can elect to submit MTD reports using suitable software before the start of the next accounting period.
Deregistration from VAT
Both the draft VAT Notice and the VAT regulations make it clear that a business is drawn into the MTD reporting regime if its annual turnover (which would be subject to VAT) exceeds £85,000. If the business turnover drops below £85,000 the business must continue to make MTD reports until it deregisters from VAT.
If you have comments to make on the draft regulations or VAT Notice you can send them to [email protected]. or post them below and AccountingWEB will include those in its response.
The regulations will be subject to the negative resolution procedure - which means that if no MP, or member of the House of Lords, objects to the draft regulations, they are passed with no debate in Parliament.
This is effectively your last chance to influence the MTD rules for VAT.
About Rebecca Cave
Consulting tax editor for Accountingweb.co.uk. I also co-author several annual tax books for Bloomsbury Professional and write newsletters for other publishers.