Making Tax Digital: changes to UK VAT compliance

This blog post was written by Marc Verbeek.

Marc Verbeek

Marc Verbeek is a Tax Partner currently working for Crowe Horwath Vanhuynegem Associates in Belgium, prior to this he worked at the Belgian Ministry of Finance, before moving on to spend 26 years with BDO. Marc is a certified tax consultant. His expertise includes (international) corporate tax advice, international employment tax, corporate tax compliance, rulings and litigation.

One of the biggest changes to the way UK companies interact with HMRC, the UK tax authority, is coming into effect from 1 April 2019. Making Tax Digital (MTD) is HMRC’s initiative to bring technology and tax together, allowing HMRC to become a “world leading, digital tax authority.”

What does it mean?
The changes will mean that all UK VAT registered organisations with a turnover above the UK VAT registration threshold (£85.000) will have to:
• keep, and be able to provide, their UK VAT records digitally.
• submit their UK VAT data to HMRC through compatible software, not through the HMRC online portal.
HMRC will no longer allow UK VAT return figures to be manually entered in the HMRC online portal when submitting the UK VAT return. Instead, you will need to have software capable of doing this for you.

Will I be affected?
Any business registered for UK VAT as their turnover has exceeded the UK VAT registration threshold will be affected. Of those, some already have a digital mechanism to transpose the figures from the UK VAT return workings to a submission, however the majority do not. According to figures from the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the leading professional body in the UK for tax advisers, 87% of UK VAT taxable persons will have to take action as a result of the new rules. The only exemptions will be for religious reasons or in the event of insolvency procedures.

What about international businesses?
Of particular interest to Belgian businesses will be that almost everyone who is UK VAT registered will have to comply with the MTD rules; being established overseas or submitting UK VAT returns outside of the UK will not result in an exemption from MTD requirements.
In addition, it may be a greater challenge to overseas organisations to comply with MTD for UK VAT as their UK activities are likely to be a single part of a larger international activity. This could also be the case for UK organisations who are part of international groups required by their overseas head offices to operate specific accounting or reporting processes and software.
As a result, if your organisation is currently manually entering the UK VAT return figures on HMRC’s portal, MTD will present a significant change to your current UK VAT processes.

What are the main requirements?
HMRC’s intention is that software will be used to maintain the relevant digital records, calculate the UK VAT return figures and to submit the return electronically. This is to be done using functional compatible software.
This software should also act as a digital ‘bridge’ between the UK taxpayer and HMRC’s systems. It will no longer be acceptable for an organisation to manually transpose figures when submitting their UK VAT returns.

When does this take effect?
HMRC has indicated there will be a “soft landing” period between April 2019 and April 2020 without application of financial penalties for record-keeping failures. This is to assist organisations by allowing extra time to update their systems to be fully compliant. There will however, have to be a digital link from the outset between the spreadsheet and the linking software that submits the UK VAT return digitally.
MTD as it currently stands is likely to just be the start of the road; it is intended to be introduced for UK Income Taxes in April 2020 and it is not unreasonable to expect that the scope of what information and data is available electronically for HMRC to access remotely will only get broader. As a result, even with a soft landing period, companies need to proactively take steps to ensure they remain compliant.

What software should I use?
HMRC has stated that it will not be providing software for organisations to use, and currently they have not yet informed taxpayers as to commercial software suppliers who will be providing the “functional compatible software”. Commercial software providers are developing solutions and some organisations will have sufficient in-house IT capability to build their own.
“Functional compatible software” is a software program or set of compatible software programs that must be able to:
• record and preserve electronic records in an electronic form for up to six years
• create a UK VAT return from the digital records
• provide to HMRC information and returns from the electronic records in an electronic form and by using an Application Programme Interface (API) to link to HMRC’s systems
• receive information from HMRC.
There “must be a digital link” between all software used by the organisation for its UK VAT compliance. Examples are given in HMRC’s guidance and a very common one, likely to be familiar to a large number of organisations, is the situation where to prepare the UK VAT return the taxpayer:
– maintains its sales and purchases data in an accounting system
– downloads this data into a spreadsheet for manual manipulation
– manually enters the figures into HMRC’s website for submission.
Under the new rules, the links between the two software programs (accounting system and spreadsheet software) must be digital.

What now?
Although the implementation date is in 2019, like all technology projects, there is a lead time in making the necessary changes to be able to successfully implement the measures needed to comply with the new rules.

Organisations affected by MTD need to consider a strategy for the immediate requirements to be ready for the April 2019 launch date and also give thought as to whether these preparations should include a readiness for a likely future expansion of the MTD requirements, be it for additional UK VAT data or for other UK taxes such as Income Tax.

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