MyAccountant Blog

Standard Rate VAT Explained

Today we continue our series of blogs explaining the recent VAT changes and how they affect you and your business.


As you may know, under the standard scheme, the amount of VAT due is the VAT you have charged on your sales invoices less any VAT you have suffered on business purchases.

For example:

VAT on sales                        £2,000
Less VAT on purchases       (£200)
Amount due to HMRC       £1,800

It is important to note that not all expenses are subject to VAT and that not all VAT is recoverable. Trains, flights, entertainment, expenses incurred abroad will not have VAT on them.

To claim back VAT, you must have a valid VAT invoice from your supplier. Invoices must be in your company name, in particular when buying equipment for your business, such as laptops, mobile phone, or sign an agreement for commercial lettings, broadband, etc.  There are exceptions to this, however, especially when buying everyday items, such as stationery or travel and subsistence.

Record Keeping

Admin will be a bit more tedious as the VAT on expenses will take centre stage in calculating your VAT liability.  Your accountant will be asking you to retain a VAT receipt for applicable costs expenses and then provide this information for your accounting records.  A valid VAT receipt or invoice will show an invoice number, date, business details, description of the goods or services and a VAT breakdown of the total amount charged.

Remember that HMRC requires your business records to be kept for six years!

Rates of VAT

There are three different rates of VAT that you may come across
• Standard rate of 20% (most goods and services)
• Reduced rate of 5% (domestic fuel, children’s car seats)
• Zero rate of 0% (books, children’s clothes)

Some goods and services are said to be exempt (e.g. postage stamps) which means that VAT does not apply. However, these items are still reportable on the VAT return.  There are payments that have nothing to do with VAT, these are said to be out of scope (e.g. salary payments and pension contributions) and do not have to appear on your VAT return.

Most Common Expenses for Contractors

The cost of fuel on company vehicles – where you use a company car or van for business journeys, you can claim the cost of the fuel as a business expense and therefore the VAT on that fuel purchase.

Subsistence – most food items are zero-rated, but some (including savoury snacks, crisps, hot food, soft drinks and mineral water) are standard-rated. Your VAT receipt should show the VAT element to reclaim.

Travel – most passenger transport is zero-rated so that you won’t be charged VAT on train, bus and air travel. Taxi fares are standard-rated, but in many cases, the business won’t be VAT registered, and therefore VAT won’t be charged. Off-street car parking is standard-rated, so in most cases (provided the business is VAT registered) you will be able to claim the VAT.

Books & magazines – these are zero-rated. Be aware however that digital books are standard-rated, as they are classified an electronic service.

Accountancy fees – these are standard-rated expenses.

Mobile Phone/Broadband/Landline – these are standard-rated, but the contracts have to be in the company name to reclaim the VAT.

Insurance – any insurance policy taken out by a company will be exempt from VAT.

Overseas goods – If you buy goods from overseas, these may include the VAT applicable to that country. However, this cannot be reclaimed on a UK VAT return. You can only claim UK VAT back through your returns.

Business Entertainment – Entertainment is standard-rated unfortunately it is not claimable.

Mileage Allowance – Where you use your own car for business journeys, you can claim the HMRC mileage allowance of 45p per mile for the first 10,000 miles per tax year, and 25p per mile thereafter.  It is possible to claim VAT on the fuel element of this mileage claim by using the Advisory Fuel Rates published by HMRC. Your accountant should be able to provide information on how to do this.

Please note that this is a brief overview of the scheme and so it may not have information specific to your business. Should you have questions on VAT, please contact your accountant.

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