Spring Statement 2018: changes to online VAT payments to tackle fraud

HMRC and Treasury have announced a joint consultation on possible options for how a split payment system could be used to combat online VAT fraud, with a standard rate split, flat rate scheme and net effective rate being put forward as possible options

The 27-page document, published as part of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement, outlines how the potential system could work, how it could be enforced, and considers a number of options for how the VAT could be accounted for.

A split payment system would allow VAT to be extracted for online payment in real time, helping to reduce the VAT gap.

One of the main issues with a split payment system is deciding at which point to split the VAT from the gross payment, whether this be with the issuing (customer’s) bank, a merchant acquirer, a payment service provider (PSP), a card scheme or the merchant’s bank.

Overseas sellers are often able to avoid paying VAT as they are based outside the UK’s jurisdiction therefore it is important that the party with which the split is taking place is within the UK’s jurisdiction.

HMRC has developed three possible options for collecting as close to the full amount of VAT as possible. These include a standard rate split, a flat rate scheme and a net effective rate.

The standard rate approach involves assuming that every transaction is liable to UK VAT at the standard rate, currently 20%. This is the easiest option for the party performing the split, as the amount of each transaction to be withheld is always the same.

The second option is to mandate overseas sellers to use the flat rate scheme, using one of a small number of new flat rates for this purpose. This could also include businesses over the current maximum threshold for eligibility for the existing scheme. This option is also simple for the party performing the split, while also being more proportionate as it does not withhold more tax than is due in the first instance.

However any individual business with input tax higher than average for its sector would pay slightly less tax under a flat rate than if it accounted for VAT in the usual manner.

The net effective rate is specific to each individual overseas business, rather than an average across particular sectors. Under this option, each overseas business would be responsible for calculating its own rate by comparing its total output tax and input tax for the previous year, and communicating this to the party responsible for effecting the split, and to HMRC.

At the end of the year, the business would submit a return to HMRC in the usual manner, and pay or be refunded any difference. The figures in the return would then be used to calculate the net effective rate for the following year. The party effecting the split would then apply this rate to all that merchant’s sales, and would only have to alter the amount it withheld once per year.

The consultation closes on 29 June 2018.

Alternative method of VAT collection – split payment 

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