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How to Claim Back VAT as a Small Business?

Updated: Jan 28

Understanding VAT Registration and Eligibility

Value Added Tax (VAT) is a significant aspect of running a business in the UK, particularly for small businesses. Understanding the intricacies of VAT, including how to reclaim it, is crucial for efficient financial management. A business must be VAT-registered to claim back VAT. In the UK, registration is mandatory for businesses with a turnover exceeding £85,000. However, businesses with lower turnover can register voluntarily, which allows them to reclaim VAT on their expenses. Once registered, a business must charge VAT on its goods and services but can also reclaim VAT spent on business-related expenses​.

How to Claim Back VAT

The Basis of VAT Reclamation for Small Businesses in the UK

Understanding the fundamentals of Value Added Tax (VAT) reclamation is essential for small businesses operating in the UK. This comprehensive guide will explore the key aspects of VAT reclamation, including eligibility, reclaimable expenses, and practical steps to ensure compliance and optimization of potential VAT refunds.

VAT Registration and Eligibility

Mandatory and Voluntary Registration: Businesses with an annual turnover exceeding £85,000 must register for VAT. However, businesses with lower turnover can opt for voluntary registration. This decision can be strategic, as it allows the reclaiming of VAT on business expenses, potentially improving cash flow and reducing overall costs​.

Benefits of Registration: Once registered, businesses can reclaim VAT on various expenses related to their operations. This can be significant, especially for businesses that incur high VAT-eligible expenses.

Reclaimable VAT Expenses

General Rule: VAT can be reclaimed on goods and services used for business purposes. This includes day-to-day operational expenses like office supplies, equipment, and services necessary for business functions.

Specific Categories:

  • Capital Goods: VAT paid on capital goods (like machinery or business vehicles) can be reclaimed, subject to certain conditions and usage criteria.

  • Mixed Use: For goods and services used for both business and personal purposes, VAT can be reclaimed proportionally, based on the extent of business use​​​.

Filing VAT Returns and Record-Keeping

Regular VAT Returns: Businesses must file VAT returns, usually quarterly, detailing the VAT collected and the VAT they are reclaiming. Timely and accurate VAT returns are crucial to maintain compliance with HMRC regulations.

Importance of Records: Keeping detailed records is essential for VAT reclamation. This includes invoices, receipts, and evidence of payments. Records must clearly show the VAT amount, enabling businesses to substantiate their claims during VAT audits.

Specific Considerations

Vehicles and Fuel: Claiming VAT on vehicles and fuel can be complex, especially if they are used for both business and personal purposes. Businesses need to understand the specific rules to correctly reclaim VAT in such scenarios​​.

Services and Goods Pre-Registration: VAT on services and goods purchased before VAT registration can also be reclaimed, within certain time limits and conditions. This includes goods purchased up to four years before registration and services acquired six months prior​​.

VAT Schemes

Standard VAT Accounting: This involves accounting for VAT on invoices issued and received, regardless of whether payment has been made or received.

Cash Accounting Scheme: Under this scheme, VAT is accounted for when payments are actually made or received, aiding cash flow for businesses that often have delayed payments.

Flat Rate Scheme: Aimed at simplifying the VAT process, this scheme allows businesses to pay a fixed rate of VAT and keep the difference between what they charge customers and what they pay to HMRC.

Challenges and Professional Assistance

Complexities: VAT reclamation can be complex, particularly for businesses with diverse operations or those new to VAT. Understanding the nuances of VAT laws and regulations is crucial.

Seeking Expertise: Many businesses benefit from professional advice, either from accountants or VAT specialists. These experts can provide guidance on VAT reclamation, ensuring compliance and maximizing VAT recovery opportunities​​.

VAT reclamation is a crucial aspect of financial management for UK small businesses. Understanding the basics of VAT registration, eligible expenses, and the correct process of filing returns and maintaining records is vital. Given the complexities, seeking professional advice can be beneficial, ensuring compliance and optimizing VAT reclamation. With careful management, VAT reclamation can significantly impact a business's financial health and sustainability.

Reclaimable VAT Expenses

A business can reclaim VAT on various tax-deductible expenses specifically related to its operations. This includes IT equipment, stationery, premises costs, stock or raw materials, professional services, marketing, employee-related expenses, and travel costs. Additionally, VAT on capital expenses or goods still in use, purchased up to four years before VAT registration, and services acquired six months prior can be reclaimed. However, there are conditions and limitations on what VAT can be reclaimed, especially in cases of personal and business mixed-use​​.

Vehicles and Fuel

Claiming back VAT on business vehicles and fuel can be complex. VAT can be reclaimed on vehicles used exclusively for business, such as taxis, driving instruction vehicles, or self-drive hire cars. The same applies to fuel used solely for business purposes. For vehicles and fuel used for both business and personal purposes, the rules are more intricate, involving the possibility of paying a fuel scale charge based on the vehicle’s carbon emissions​​.

However, the rules can be more complicated when you use the vehicle for private and business travel. For instance, you could claim all VAT, however, you must pay a fuel scale cost that is based on the car's carbon emissions. But, you may consider it more economical to pay VAT if you drive a low amount of miles and the fuel charge is excessive for your vehicle.

Choosing the Right VAT Scheme

There are different VAT schemes that a small business can opt for, depending on its nature and scale of operations. The VAT Flat Rate Scheme is suited for businesses with minimal expenses on goods and materials, simplifying VAT calculations. The VAT Cash Accounting Scheme enables businesses to account for VAT only upon receiving payments, aiding in cash flow management. Each scheme has its pros and cons and should be chosen based on the specific needs and circumstances of the business.

VAT Reclamation Time Limits

Businesses have up to four years from the transaction date to claim back VAT on eligible costs. This time frame is essential for effective financial planning and ensuring that businesses do not lose the opportunity to reclaim significant amounts. Keeping precise records and invoices is crucial to support VAT claims.

What Can You Reclaim VAT On?

You are allowed to claim VAT only for tax-deductible expenses that are specifically incurred for your business. Here are some of the most common items and services you can be able to claim back:

IT equipment: laptops, work computers as well as maintenance software, and more.

Stationery: printer ink, paper, postage, etc.

Premises: Rent security, insurance, utility bills, etc.

Stock: any items bought for resale, or raw materials bought to produce items

Professional services: finance, legal and other assistance to manage your company

Marketing: samples, advertising, and more

Employment: salaries, bonuses, benefits, pension contributions, etc.

Travel Costs: costs of travel hotel rooms, food, meals, etc. Costs incurred on business trips

You are also able to reclaim VAT for purchases that you bought prior to registering. However, you only do it once and there are limitations to the amount you can claim back. For capital expenditures, also known as the goods your company uses, you are able to claim back purchases made up to four years prior to the date you registered as you are still using the goods.

Claim VAT On Fuel and Business Vehicles

Practical Steps to Claim Back VAT for UK Small Businesses

Filing VAT Returns and Record-Keeping

Accurate and systematic record-keeping is the cornerstone of effective VAT management. Small businesses must maintain clear records, including VAT receipts, to support their claims. These records should detail all transactions with the total amount of VAT being claimed. VAT returns must be submitted online regularly, adhering to the deadlines set by HMRC. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in penalties. Therefore, it's crucial to keep abreast of obligations and maintain accurate and current business records to streamline the VAT reclamation process​.

Reclaiming VAT on Specific Expenses

  1. Home Office Expenses: For businesses operated from home, a proportion of VAT on services like utilities and broadband can be reclaimed. The claimable amount depends on the extent of business use compared to personal use.

  2. Travel and Accommodation: VAT on business-related travel costs, including accommodations and meals during business trips, is reclaimable. However, most public transport is zero-rated for VAT, meaning there's usually nothing to claim back.

  3. Vehicles: Businesses can reclaim VAT on vehicles used exclusively for business purposes, such as taxis or driving instruction cars. In cases of leased vehicles, only 50% of the VAT can be claimed back, with certain exceptions.

  4. Fuel: The VAT on fuel used solely for business purposes is reclaimable. However, if the fuel is used for both business and personal purposes, businesses can either reclaim all the VAT and pay a fuel scale charge or reclaim VAT only on fuel used for business trips, requiring detailed mileage records​.

Managing VAT on Mixed Supplies

Businesses offering a mix of taxable and exempt goods and services, known as 'partly exempt', face unique VAT reclamation challenges. They must accurately calculate the proportion of VAT that can be reclaimed, based on the ratio of taxable to exempt supplies. This requires meticulous record-keeping and often the assistance of an accounting professional to ensure compliance and maximize VAT recovery.

Dealing with VAT on Purchases before Registration

Businesses can reclaim VAT on goods and services purchased before VAT registration. The reclaimable period is up to four years for goods still in use and six months for services. However, these purchases must be related to the business's VAT taxable activities. It's important to note that VAT can only be reclaimed once for pre-registration expenses, emphasizing the need for detailed documentation and timely claims​.

Advanced Considerations and Strategies in VAT Management for UK Small Businesses to Claim Back VAT

Utilizing Digital Tools for VAT Compliance

In an increasingly digital world, leveraging technology is key for efficient VAT management. The Making Tax Digital initiative by HMRC requires businesses to maintain digital records and submit VAT returns online. Utilizing accounting software or digital tools simplifies this process, ensuring accuracy and compliance. These tools can help track transactions, calculate VAT, and prepare returns, reducing the risk of errors and the burden of manual record-keeping. It's crucial for small businesses to choose software that aligns with their operations and complies with HMRC's requirements.

Navigating Changes in VAT Regulations

Staying informed about changes in VAT regulations is essential. For instance, in 2024, the UK has several tax changes, like the increase in Plastic Packaging Tax and adjustments in energy saving materials' zero-rated relief. These changes can impact how small businesses manage and reclaim VAT. Businesses must keep abreast of such changes to ensure they are not only compliant but also taking advantage of any benefits or reliefs available to them.

Considering Professional Assistance

While small businesses can manage VAT themselves, the complexities often warrant professional assistance. Accountants or VAT specialists can provide invaluable support in ensuring compliance, optimizing VAT reclamation, and advising on the best practices tailored to the business's specific needs. They can also assist in navigating changes in VAT regulations, ensuring that the business remains up-to-date and compliant with the latest requirements​​.

Addressing Challenges in VAT Reclamation

Small businesses might face several challenges in VAT reclamation, such as determining the exact amount of VAT to reclaim on mixed-use expenses or dealing with partial exemption. It's important to address these challenges proactively, through accurate record-keeping, understanding the nuances of VAT laws, and seeking professional advice when needed.

Deregistering for VAT

In some cases, a business might need to deregister for VAT, such as when its taxable turnover drops below the deregistration threshold. This process involves stopping charging VAT, informing HMRC, and retaining VAT records for six years. Understanding the process and implications of deregistration is important for businesses to avoid penalties and ensure a smooth transition.

VAT management is a critical aspect of running a small business in the UK. It involves understanding and complying with complex regulations, maintaining accurate records, and making informed decisions about reclaiming VAT. By leveraging digital tools, staying updated on regulation changes, and possibly seeking professional advice, small businesses can navigate the VAT landscape effectively. This comprehensive approach not only ensures compliance but also maximizes financial benefits, contributing to the overall success and sustainability of the business.

2024 updates on VAT Reclamation for Small Businesses in the UK

As of 2024, there are several updates and considerations for small businesses in the UK regarding VAT reclamation:

  1. Extension of Zero Rate on Women's Sanitary Products: From January 2024, the zero rate relief on women's sanitary products has been extended to include reusable period underwear, as part of the Autumn Statement commitment.

  2. Changes in Interpretation of VAT and Excise Legislation: The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 (REULA), effective from 1 January 2024, impacts the interpretation of VAT and excise legislation in the UK. It ends the special status of retained EU law, confirming that UK legislation for VAT and excise can no longer be disapplied due to incompatibility with retained EU law.

  3. Customs Duty Waiver Scheme Adjustment: The Government has increased the maximum value of duties that can be waived for 'at-risk' goods moved into Northern Ireland to approximately £235,000, up from £170,000.

  4. Changes in Customs Declaration Service (CDS) Exports: From 30 March 2024, the Customs Declaration Service is set to replace the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system.

  5. Increase in Plastic Packaging Tax: Starting 1 April 2024, the Plastic Packaging Tax rate will increase from £210.82 to £217.85 per tonne.

  6. End of VAT Margin Scheme for Cars in Northern Ireland: After 30 April 2024, motor vehicles sold in Northern Ireland can no longer use the VAT margin scheme. VAT will be accounted for on the full selling price of these vehicles.

  7. Windsor Framework Milestones: Various changes affecting trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including documentary and risk-based checks on certain products, are being introduced as part of the Windsor Framework milestones throughout 2024.

  8. Potential VAT Liability Changes and Other Developments: Anticipated changes include VAT liability issues for private hire vehicles, modifications to gaming duties, adjustments to the VAT treatment of terminal markets, and clarity on VAT position for electric vehicle charging.

For businesses considering VAT registration, it's important to note that while the majority can register online, some, like those based abroad or with complex structures, may require offline registration using the VAT1 form. Following VAT registration, businesses must adhere to several responsibilities, including adjusting prices to include VAT, issuing VAT invoices, filing VAT returns, and maintaining digital records in compliance with Making Tax Digital for VAT. It’s crucial to maintain precise records of purchases and VAT invoices to back claims and avoid disputes with HMRC.

Finally, VAT deadlines vary depending on the company's VAT return period. VAT returns need to be made within one calendar month and seven days of the VAT return period ending. There are different schemes available, such as the Annual Accounting VAT Scheme, which allows businesses to submit a single VAT return per year and make regular payments throughout the year.

These updates reflect the ongoing changes in the UK's VAT landscape, emphasizing the need for small businesses to stay informed and compliant.

How a VAT Accountant Can Help You With VAT Reclamation in the UK

In the complex and ever-evolving landscape of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the UK, navigating VAT reclamation can be a daunting task for small business owners. This is where the expertise of a VAT accountant becomes invaluable. A VAT accountant specializes in handling all aspects of VAT, offering essential support in VAT reclamation and ensuring compliance with the latest regulations.

Understanding VAT Legislation

Keeping Up-to-Date with Changes: VAT legislation in the UK is subject to frequent changes, as seen with the updates in 2024 including adjustments in the zero rate relief on certain products and changes in customs and tax regimes. A VAT accountant stays abreast of these developments, ensuring that your business remains compliant and benefits from any available reliefs or exemptions.

Expert Guidance on VAT Registration

Deciding on VAT Registration: While businesses with a turnover above £85,000 are required to register for VAT, those with lower turnover may choose voluntary registration. A VAT accountant can provide guidance on whether this would be beneficial for your business, considering factors like reclaimable VAT on business expenses.

Maximizing VAT Reclamation

Identifying Reclaimable VAT: VAT accountants can identify expenses on which VAT can be reclaimed. This includes capital goods, everyday operational expenses, and specific categories such as vehicles and fuel, where the rules for VAT reclamation can be particularly complex​.

Assisting with VAT Returns and Record-Keeping

Filing Accurate VAT Returns: VAT returns must be filed regularly, detailing the VAT collected and reclaimed. A VAT accountant ensures accuracy in these returns, which is critical to avoid penalties and overpayments.

Maintaining Records: Proper record-keeping is essential for VAT reclamation. A VAT accountant ensures that all necessary documents, such as invoices and receipts, are accurately maintained, supporting claims during VAT audits.

Handling Complex VAT Situations

Advising on Mixed Supplies: For businesses dealing with both taxable and exempt supplies, calculating the proportion of VAT to reclaim can be challenging. A VAT accountant can assist in these 'partly exempt' situations to optimize VAT recovery.

Managing Pre-Registration VAT: Businesses can reclaim VAT on purchases made before registration within specific time limits. VAT accountants can ensure that these claims are made accurately and within the allowable time frame​.

Choosing the Right VAT Scheme

Selecting an Appropriate Scheme: Several VAT accounting schemes are available, each with its own benefits and requirements. A VAT accountant can advise on the most suitable scheme for your business, such as the Annual Accounting VAT Scheme, VAT Flat Rate Scheme, or VAT Cash Accounting Scheme, based on your business model and cash flow needs​.

Assisting with VAT Audits and Disputes

Representation in Audits: In case of HMRC audits, having a VAT accountant can be invaluable. They can represent your business, handle inquiries, and ensure that all the compliance requirements have been met.

Resolving Disputes: Should disputes arise with HMRC, a VAT accountant can provide expert advice and representation, helping to resolve issues efficiently and effectively.

Streamlining VAT Processes with Technology

Implementing Digital Solutions: In line with Making Tax Digital requirements, VAT accountants can help integrate digital accounting solutions into your business operations, streamlining the process of VAT management and submission.

A VAT accountant is more than just a financial advisor for your business. They play a crucial role in ensuring that your business navigates the complex realm of VAT in the UK efficiently and compliantly. From staying updated with legislative changes to maximizing VAT reclamation and handling complex VAT situations, their expertise is indispensable for small businesses looking to optimize their VAT processes and safeguard against potential compliance issues. The investment in a VAT accountant is not just an expense but a strategic decision to enhance the financial health and compliance of your business.

How Can a Pro Tax Accountant Help You Reclaim VAT?

There are several issues to be aware of when the process of claiming VAT. One is that it may become difficult to establish that the goods and services you purchase are meant for use by businesses. It's even more difficult when you intend to keep the items for personal use as well. How do you figure out the right amount of VAT to be split between the costs of WiFi when you work at home? Another problem that people face is identifying an invalid VAT bill from the vendor as you will not be in a position to use it for your claim. It is your responsibility to make certain that the VAT invoices you receive are legitimate to allow your business customers to submit their own VAT claims.

Pro Tax accountant are available to assist, there's no need to worry about getting these things correct. PTA will ensure everything is done correctly. They will also handle the work of filing your tax return so you can focus on running your business. For more details contact us.


Q1: Can a business reclaim VAT on all types of expenses?

A: No, VAT can only be reclaimed on business-related expenses. Personal expenses or those not directly related to business activities are not eligible for VAT reclamation.

Q2: What happens if a business misses the VAT registration deadline?

A: Missing the VAT registration deadline can result in penalties and interest charges from HMRC. It's crucial to register within 30 days of the end of the month in which the business exceeded the VAT threshold.

Q3: How long does it take to receive a VAT number after registration?

A: Typically, it takes about 30 working days to receive a VAT number after completing the registration process.

Q4: Are there any exemptions from VAT registration?

A: Yes, certain goods and services are exempt from VAT, and businesses dealing exclusively in these may not need to register for VAT.

Q5: Can a VAT accountant represent a business in communications with HMRC?

A: Yes, a VAT accountant can act as a representative of the business in dealings with HMRC, including during audits and disputes.

Q6: How does a business determine if it should voluntarily register for VAT?

A: This decision depends on various factors like the nature of the business, its expenses, and its customer base. A VAT accountant can offer tailored advice on whether voluntary registration is beneficial.

Q7: What is the penalty for late VAT returns or payments?

A: Penalties vary based on the business's turnover and the number of defaults. They can range from a percentage of the unpaid VAT to a fixed surcharge.

Q8: Are digital records mandatory for all VAT-registered businesses?

A: Yes, under the Making Tax Digital initiative, digital record-keeping and online VAT return submissions are mandatory for VAT-registered businesses.

Q9: Can a business deregister from VAT if it falls below the threshold?

A: Yes, a business can apply to deregister from VAT if its taxable turnover falls below the deregistration threshold.

Q10: What are the implications of the Annual Accounting VAT Scheme?

A: This scheme allows businesses to submit one VAT return per year and make regular payments, easing cash flow management.

Q11: How does the VAT Flat Rate Scheme work?

A: In the VAT Flat Rate Scheme, businesses pay a fixed rate of VAT to HMRC and keep the difference between what they charge customers and what they pay HMRC.

Q12: Is professional advice necessary for VAT registration and reclamation?

A: While not mandatory, professional advice from a VAT accountant can be invaluable in ensuring compliance and optimizing VAT reclamation.

Q13: What is the threshold for mandatory VAT registration in the UK?

A: The threshold for mandatory VAT registration is £85,000 in annual turnover.

Q14: How are mixed supplies treated for VAT reclamation?

A: For mixed supplies (taxable and exempt), businesses must calculate the proportion of VAT that can be reclaimed based on the ratio of taxable to exempt supplies.

Q15: Can VAT be reclaimed on expenses incurred before VAT registration?

A: Yes, VAT on certain goods and services purchased before VAT registration can be reclaimed, subject to specific conditions and time limits.

Q16: What are the common challenges in VAT reclamation?

A: Challenges include determining VAT amounts on mixed-use expenses, managing partial exemption, and keeping accurate records.

Q17: What role does technology play in VAT management?

A: Technology, especially accounting software compliant with Making Tax Digital, plays a key role in efficient VAT management, record-keeping, and return submissions.

Q18: How long are businesses required to keep VAT records?

A: VAT records must be kept for six years, as they might be needed for HMRC audits or queries.

Q19: Can VAT reclamation vary based on the type of business?

A: Yes, VAT reclamation can vary depending on the nature of the business, the goods and services it deals in, and its VAT accounting scheme.

Q20: What should a business do if it faces a VAT dispute with HMRC?

A: In case of a dispute, it's advisable to seek guidance from a VAT accountant or legal professional to resolve the issue efficiently.


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