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How to Avoid or Minimize VAT On Commercial Property

Understanding VAT Exemptions and Strategies for Commercial Property

When navigating the complexities of Value Added Tax (VAT) on commercial properties in the UK, understanding your options can lead to significant savings and strategic financial planning. This first part of our guide delves into the crucial strategies and exemptions available for minimizing or avoiding VAT on commercial property transactions.


How to Avoid or Minimize VAT On Commercial Property


VAT Basics on Commercial Properties

Commercial property transactions in the UK are typically subject to a standard VAT rate of 20%. However, several conditions and exemptions can alter this general rule, making it possible for property owners and businesses to reduce their VAT liabilities or avoid them altogether.


Opting to Tax

One of the primary decisions for commercial property owners is whether to opt to tax the property. Opting to tax allows the owner to charge VAT on the rent and sales of the property, which can be beneficial in recovering VAT on related costs, such as renovations or maintenance. This option is particularly advantageous when significant investments are made into the property that increases its value.


However, opting to tax is not suitable for all, especially for businesses in sectors like health services or charities, where recovering VAT might not be possible. The decision to opt to tax is usually irrevocable and needs to be communicated to HMRC in writing.


Transfer of Going Concern (TOGC)

Another vital strategy is the Transfer of Going Concern (TOGC). This scenario occurs when a business is sold as a going concern and involves the transfer of a property that is part of that business. If certain conditions are met, the transaction can be treated as a TOGC, making it exempt from VAT. This exemption is particularly useful in transactions where the buyer continues to use the property for the same type of business.


VAT Exemptions and Zero Rating

Certain properties are automatically exempt from VAT. These include properties used for charitable purposes, education, or non-profit activities. Understanding these exemptions is crucial for businesses operating in these sectors.


Moreover, new commercial properties, less than three years old, are standard-rated for VAT. However, if these properties meet specific conditions, such as being used for residential, charitable, or educational purposes, they may qualify for a zero-rated VAT.


Reclaiming VAT

For VAT-registered businesses, reclaiming VAT on commercial property expenses is a standard procedure. This includes costs related to purchase, lease premiums, and ongoing property expenses like refurbishments, legal fees, and utilities. Ensuring that your business maintains accurate records and applies for VAT reclaims appropriately can aid in managing cash flows and reducing overall expenses.


This part has explored several key strategies for managing VAT in commercial property transactions. Opting to tax, understanding TOGC, leveraging VAT exemptions, and effective VAT reclaim practices form the core of strategic VAT planning for commercial properties in the UK. As we proceed to the next part, we will delve deeper into the practical steps and additional strategies to optimize VAT handling for commercial property owners and businesses.



Advanced VAT Minimization Strategies for UK Commercial Properties

Building on the foundational knowledge of VAT handling from Part One, this section delves into advanced strategies and considerations that can significantly affect VAT implications for commercial property owners in the UK. Here, we explore the impact of transaction structuring, special schemes, and the importance of timely VAT planning.


Structuring Transactions to Minimize VAT

The way a commercial property transaction is structured can greatly influence the VAT implications. Strategic structuring is essential, particularly in complex transactions involving multiple elements or mixed-use properties. For instance, segregating a transaction into taxable and exempt components can optimize VAT recovery, especially when parts of the property are used for different purposes that attract different VAT treatments.


Mixed-use properties, which combine residential and commercial elements, often require careful consideration. VAT treatment for these properties can be complex, as different rules may apply to different parts of the property. Proper structuring of the sale or lease agreements can help in applying the correct VAT rates and maximizing VAT recovery on expenses.


Capital Goods Scheme

The Capital Goods Scheme (CGS) can have significant VAT implications for commercial properties over a period of time. This scheme adjusts the amount of VAT you can recover on certain capital expenses based on how the property is used over several years. If the use of the property changes—for example, from taxable to exempt activities—adjustments may be required, affecting the amount of VAT you can reclaim.


Prompt and Accurate VAT Reporting

Timeliness in VAT reporting and accuracy in the records kept are crucial in managing VAT liabilities effectively. Late submissions or inaccurate VAT returns can lead to penalties and interest charges. For businesses involved in commercial property, setting up automated systems for record-keeping and ensuring regular reviews can mitigate risks associated with VAT reporting.


Special VAT Schemes

The UK tax system offers several special VAT schemes that can benefit small businesses and property owners. These include the Flat Rate Scheme, the Annual Accounting Scheme, and the Cash Accounting Scheme. Each scheme has specific benefits and criteria, and choosing the right one can lead to simpler accounting and potential cash flow benefits.


For example, the Flat Rate Scheme simplifies the VAT process by applying a fixed rate of VAT to your turnover, which can be beneficial for businesses with fewer VAT-deductible expenses. The Cash Accounting Scheme allows businesses to account for VAT on the basis of cash received and paid, which can assist in managing cash flow more effectively.


This section has covered advanced strategies for minimizing VAT liabilities, focusing on transaction structuring, the Capital Goods Scheme, and the importance of timely and accurate VAT reporting. It also highlighted the benefits of special VAT schemes available to businesses. In the final part of our guide, we will discuss legal considerations, pitfalls to avoid in VAT planning, and provide a conclusive summary with key takeaways for UK commercial property owners aiming to optimize their VAT strategies.



Legal Considerations and Best Practices in VAT Planning for UK Commercial Properties

In this final segment of our comprehensive guide, we focus on the legal considerations and practical steps property owners should take to navigate VAT regulations efficiently, alongside highlighting common pitfalls to avoid. This part aims to consolidate your understanding and prepare you for proactive VAT management in commercial property dealings.


Legal Considerations and Compliance

Navigating VAT laws requires a keen understanding of legal obligations and compliance requirements. VAT legislation, particularly in relation to commercial property, is detailed in the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and subsequent amendments. Property owners need to be aware of how VAT laws apply to their specific situations, especially in transactions such as the sale or lease of property that may have complex VAT implications.


The importance of compliance cannot be overstated, as non-compliance can result in severe penalties. Engaging with a VAT consultant or a tax advisor specialized in property transactions can provide crucial insights and help in structuring deals that comply with VAT regulations while minimizing liabilities.


Pitfalls to Avoid in VAT Planning

One of the major pitfalls in VAT planning is the misunderstanding of the "option to tax." Once an option to tax is made, it is almost irrevocable and binds the property for 20 years, affecting subsequent transactions. Property owners should carefully consider their long-term strategy before opting to tax, as reversing this decision is typically not possible without specific circumstances such as the demolition of the building.


Another common mistake is failing to plan for the VAT implications of future property developments or changes in use. This oversight can lead to unexpected VAT liabilities or lost opportunities for VAT recovery. Regular reviews of VAT strategies in light of changing business activities or property uses are essential to avoid such pitfalls.


Best Practices in VAT Management

Implementing best practices in VAT management involves several key actions:


  • Regular Training and Updates: Ensure that your financial team is regularly trained and updated on the latest VAT regulations and practices. This ongoing education helps in recognizing opportunities for VAT savings and avoiding compliance issues.

  • Proactive Planning: Engage in proactive VAT planning at the early stages of property acquisition or development. This includes assessing the potential VAT implications of different uses and configurations of the property.

  • Documentation and Record-Keeping: Maintain thorough documentation and records of all transactions and VAT decisions. This is crucial for supporting VAT claims and demonstrating compliance during any HMRC audits.


Navigating VAT on commercial properties in the UK involves a complex interplay of regulations, strategic decision-making, and ongoing management. By understanding the legal framework, avoiding common pitfalls, and implementing best practices in VAT planning, property owners can effectively manage their VAT obligations and optimize their financial outcomes. This guide provides a comprehensive overview and practical insights to empower property owners with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions in their VAT strategies. As the landscape of VAT legislation evolves, staying informed and engaged with tax professionals will continue to be essential for successful VAT management in the commercial property sector.



Considerations for VAT When Converting Commercial Property into Residential Use

Converting a commercial property into residential use in the UK involves a range of VAT considerations that are pivotal for developers and property owners to manage their costs and compliance effectively. Here we explore the key aspects of VAT that impact such conversions, detailing the financial implications, potential reliefs, and the compliance requirements.


1. Understanding the VAT Implications

When a commercial property is converted into residential use, the VAT treatment changes significantly. Commercial properties generally attract a standard VAT rate of 20%, whereas residential properties benefit from reduced or zero rates under certain conditions. The initial step in any conversion project is to assess how these VAT rates will apply to the costs and supplies associated with the project.


2. Zero-Rating of Residential Conversions

One of the most significant benefits in the realm of VAT for property conversions is the possibility of zero-rating the construction services and building materials. Zero-rating applies to the conversion of a non-residential property into residential use, provided the resulting dwelling will be used for a qualifying purpose, such as sale or rental. Importantly, zero-rating can be claimed on most services and materials used directly in the conversion, but it requires detailed documentation and strict adherence to HMRC guidelines.


3. Reduced VAT Rate for Renovations

If the property does not qualify for zero-rating, it may still be eligible for a reduced VAT rate of 5%. This reduced rate applies to renovation or alteration work on properties that have been empty for two years or more before the work begins. For developers, ensuring that the property meets these criteria can lead to significant savings on the overall VAT cost of the project.


4. VAT on Professional Services

While construction services and materials might benefit from reduced or zero rates, professional services such as architectural, surveying, consultancy, and supervisory duties are generally charged at the standard rate of 20%. Planning and understanding these costs from the outset are crucial for budgeting and financial forecasting.


5. Opting to Tax

For VAT purposes, property owners might consider 'opting to tax' the land. This decision allows them to charge VAT on subsequent rents or the sale of the property, enabling them to recover VAT paid on the costs of conversion. However, this option has long-term implications and should be aligned with the commercial strategy of the property, as it might affect the attractiveness of the property to potential buyers or tenants who cannot recover VAT.


6. Recovery of VAT

Recovering VAT on conversion projects can be complex. VAT incurred on costs that directly relate to the conversion can generally be recovered if the end use is taxable (such as a property opted to tax). However, if the property is used for exempt supplies post-conversion, such as rental of residential units without an option to tax, recovering input VAT may not be possible.


7. Planning and Compliance

Adherence to VAT rules requires careful planning and compliance. This includes maintaining detailed records of all costs and VAT charges, filing correct VAT returns, and potentially dealing with complex partial exemption calculations. Engaging a VAT consultant or specialist accountant is often necessary to navigate the intricacies of VAT law as it applies to property conversions.


8. HMRC Notifications and Permissions

Certain types of conversion projects may require prior notification or permission from HMRC to qualify for reduced or zero-rated VAT. Ensuring that all necessary permissions are obtained before starting the work is critical to secure the applicable VAT relief.


9. Impact of VAT Changes

VAT legislation is subject to change, and recent years have seen various adjustments to VAT rates and regulations affecting property development. Staying informed about these changes is crucial for anyone involved in property conversion projects to ensure compliance and optimal financial planning.


The conversion of commercial property into residential use presents several VAT planning opportunities and challenges. From securing zero-rated VAT on construction costs to understanding the long-term implications of opting to tax, each decision must be carefully considered against the backdrop of current VAT legislation and the specific circumstances of the project. Professional advice is essential, providing the expertise needed to navigate VAT regulations effectively and to leverage tax reliefs that improve the project's financial viability.



How a Business Can Deregister from VAT and the Implications for Commercial Properties

Deregistering from VAT is a relevant consideration for businesses in the UK, particularly when their taxable turnover falls below the specified threshold or they cease making taxable supplies. This process can have specific implications for businesses dealing with commercial properties. Below, we explore how a business can deregister from VAT, the criteria it must meet, and the various implications this decision can have on commercial properties.


How to Deregister from VAT


1. Eligibility for Deregistration:

A business can apply for VAT deregistration if it expects its taxable turnover in the next 12 months to be below the deregistration threshold, which is currently set at £88,000 as of 2024. Businesses can also deregister if they stop making taxable supplies or if they are selling their business as a going concern.


2. Application Process:

The deregistration process involves completing a VAT7 form, available on the HMRC website. This form requires details about the business, the reason for deregistration, and the expected future turnover. The application can be submitted online, by post, or through an authorized agent.


3. HMRC Review:

Once the application is submitted, HMRC will review it to ensure all conditions are met. The approval process may involve additional queries from HMRC about the business's activities and future plans.


4. Effective Date of Deregistration:

If approved, HMRC will set an effective date of deregistration, which is usually the date the application was made or a future date if requested by the business. The business must stop charging VAT from this date and is required to submit a final VAT Return for the period up to the deregistration date.


Implications for Commercial Properties


1. Impact on VAT Recovery:

Post-deregistration, a business cannot reclaim any VAT on its purchases. This is particularly significant for commercial properties where ongoing expenses such as renovations or repairs might involve substantial VAT costs. Businesses need to plan their activities and purchases carefully around the deregistration to minimize the non-recoverable VAT costs.


2. Selling or Leasing Commercial Properties:

If a business owns commercial properties and has opted to tax them, deregistering from VAT means it can no longer charge VAT on rents or on the sale of these properties. This could make the properties more attractive to tenants or buyers who cannot recover VAT. However, it also means the business cannot reclaim VAT on ongoing property-related expenses, potentially increasing the cost of property management.


3. Capital Goods Scheme Adjustments:

For businesses that have made significant VAT-recoverable purchases on commercial properties, such as extensive refurbishments or constructions, the VAT recovered might be subject to adjustment under the Capital Goods Scheme. If these properties are still within the adjustment period (typically 10 years for buildings), deregistering from VAT might require the business to repay some of the VAT reclaimed during this period.


4. Administrative Reductions:

Deregistering from VAT simplifies a business's administrative duties as it no longer needs to maintain detailed VAT records or submit VAT returns. This reduction in administrative burden can lead to cost savings and allow the business to focus more resources on core activities.


5. Strategic Considerations:

For businesses involved in property development or investment, the decision to deregister should be aligned with their strategic goals. For example, if a business plans to continue acquiring and developing properties, staying VAT-registered might be more beneficial despite the administrative overhead, due to the significant VAT amounts involved in such transactions.


Deregistering from VAT is a strategic decision that requires careful consideration, especially for businesses dealing with commercial properties. The inability to recover VAT post-deregistration needs to be weighed against the administrative simplicity and potential appeal to VAT-exempt buyers and tenants. Businesses must assess their current and future activities, the nature of their transactions, and their market to determine whether deregistration aligns with their overall strategic objectives. Proper planning and consultation with a VAT specialist are advisable to navigate this complex decision-making process effectively.


ned. It's crucial to have the most accurate and up-to-date information, especially when dealing with VAT regulations that can significantly impact business operations and financial planning. I apologize for the oversight and thank you for your correction.



Case Study: Minimizing VAT on a Commercial Property

In June 2024, Jonathan Taylor, a savvy UK property developer, embarked on a strategic project to minimize VAT on his latest acquisition—a commercial property destined for a mixed-use development in London. This case study explores the methods Jonathan used, combining real-life facts, steps, and calculations to provide a comprehensive view of effective VAT planning and execution.


Background Scenario

Jonathan recently purchased an older commercial building in the Shoreditch area of London, with plans to transform it into a hub combining retail spaces on the ground floor and residential units above. Aware of the complex VAT implications involved in such developments, he aimed to structure his project to optimize VAT efficiency.


Step-by-Step VAT Minimization


  1. VAT Exemption on Purchase: Jonathan purchased the property as a Transfer of Going Concern (TOGC). The seller was a VAT-registered entity, and the building was part of their taxable business. By structuring the sale as a TOGC, the transaction was exempt from VAT, leading to immediate savings on the acquisition cost.

  2. Opting to Tax: Although the TOGC exempted the initial purchase from VAT, Jonathan opted to tax the property to recover VAT on renovation costs. This decision was crucial as it enabled him to reclaim VAT on substantial refurbishment expenses, including the conversion of upper floors into residential units and modernizing the retail spaces.

  3. Mixed-Use Development Considerations: For the residential part of the building, Jonathan planned to apply the zero-rated VAT relief for new residential constructions. This relief allowed him to recover VAT on costs directly associated with constructing residential units, despite the overall property being opted for taxation.

  4. Energy-Saving Materials: Utilizing the government's extended relief on VAT for installing specific energy-saving materials, Jonathan incorporated advanced energy-efficient systems like water-source heat pumps and battery storage. These installations not only enhanced the property’s green credentials but also qualified for zero-rated VAT, further reducing the project's total VAT cost.

  5. Professional VAT Planning: Throughout the process, Jonathan engaged with a VAT consultant specialized in property development. This expert guidance was instrumental in navigating complex VAT regulations, ensuring compliance, and optimizing strategies for VAT recovery.


Real-Life Figures and Variations

The total project budget was £5 million, with expected VAT recoverable expenses amounting to approximately £600,000. By effectively applying the TOGC rules, opting to tax, and leveraging zero-rated reliefs on parts of the construction, Jonathan projected a reduction in net VAT costs by around 20%, amounting to significant savings over the project lifecycle.


Jonathan’s proactive approach to VAT planning exemplifies how understanding and strategically applying VAT laws can substantially reduce the financial burden on commercial property developments. This case study not only outlines the steps taken but also highlights the importance of timely and informed decisions in property investment and development. Such strategic planning is essential for any developer looking to maximize their investment returns while minimizing fiscal liabilities in the UK’s dynamic property market.


How a VAT Accountant Can Help You Avoid or Minimize VAT on Commercial Property


How a VAT Accountant Can Help You Avoid or Minimize VAT on Commercial Property

Navigating the labyrinth of VAT (Value Added Tax) implications on commercial properties in the UK can be daunting. This is where a VAT accountant becomes invaluable, leveraging deep expertise to guide property developers, investors, and owners through the complexities of VAT planning and compliance. Below, we explore how a VAT accountant can assist you in minimizing or even avoiding unnecessary VAT charges.


In-depth VAT Planning and Strategy

A VAT accountant provides strategic planning tailored to the specifics of your property transactions. They can forecast VAT implications based on your business model and property use, suggesting optimal structures for your deals. For instance, they can help determine whether opting to tax the property would be beneficial, allowing you to recover VAT on related costs or if keeping the transaction exempt from VAT is more advantageous.


Handling Complex Transactions

Commercial property transactions can vary significantly—ranging from acquisitions and disposals to renovations and lease agreements. Each type has different VAT implications. A VAT accountant ensures that all aspects of a deal are structured effectively to minimize VAT liabilities. They can manage complex scenarios such as the Transfer of a Going Concern (TOGC) where VAT might be mitigated altogether, or they might navigate the capital goods scheme to adjust VAT recovery over time.


Compliance and Record-Keeping

VAT accountants ensure compliance with all HMRC regulations, an essential component given the penalties for non-compliance. They can maintain meticulous records and prepare all necessary documentation to support VAT claims, including detailed breakdowns of input and output VAT. This precision is crucial during HMRC audits or inspections.


Expertise in VAT Reclaims

One of the significant areas where VAT accountants add value is in identifying opportunities to reclaim VAT. For commercial properties, this could include VAT on construction costs, professional fees, and even certain types of refurbishments that qualify under various VAT relief schemes. A knowledgeable VAT accountant will navigate the reclaim process, ensuring that you capitalize on all available reliefs, such as those for energy-saving materials or zero-rated items.


Up-to-date Knowledge of VAT Legislation

VAT legislation is continually changing, and staying abreast of these changes is crucial. A VAT accountant will be updated with the latest laws and guidelines, such as adjustments in VAT rates, changes in the VAT treatment of commercial properties, or updates to the VAT registration threshold. This current knowledge is vital to avoid outdated practices that could lead to overpayments or penalties.


Representation and Negotiation with HMRC

Should disputes arise, a VAT accountant can represent your interests in negotiations with HMRC. This representation can be invaluable in resolving conflicts regarding VAT assessments, ensuring that your case is presented clearly and professionally. They can handle communications and negotiations, providing technical expertise and strategic advice to defend your position effectively.


Training and Advisory

Beyond handling transactions, VAT accountants can also provide training for your in-house team, ensuring they understand the VAT processes relevant to your business operations. This training helps in making informed decisions quickly, without always needing external consultation. Additionally, they offer advisory services that can help you understand the potential impacts of VAT on future business plans or property developments.


In the complex landscape of UK commercial property transactions, a VAT accountant plays a pivotal role in ensuring VAT efficiency and compliance. By leveraging their expertise, you can significantly reduce VAT liabilities, enhance cash flows, and ensure that your property transactions are structured in the most tax-efficient manner. Whether you’re engaging in a straightforward purchase or a complex redevelopment project, the guidance of a skilled VAT accountant is indispensable in navigating the intricacies of VAT legislation and optimizing your tax position.



FAQs


Q1: What are the specific VAT implications for commercial properties undergoing significant renovation or change of use?

A: Significant renovations or changes in use of a commercial property can affect the VAT treatment, potentially requiring a reassessment of the VAT status and eligibility for claiming input VAT on renovation costs.


Q2: How does VAT apply to properties that are part of a partial exemption regime?

A: Properties under a partial exemption regime have their VAT handling based on the proportion of taxable to exempt business use. This affects how much input VAT can be reclaimed.


Q3: Can VAT on commercial properties be capitalized in the property’s cost for accounting purposes?

A: Yes, VAT paid on commercial property purchases can be included in the capital cost of the property for accounting purposes if the property is used for taxable supplies and the VAT is recoverable.


Q4: What are the considerations for VAT when converting a commercial property into residential use?

A: Converting commercial properties to residential use may change the VAT treatment, potentially qualifying the project for a reduced VAT rate or exemption, depending on the scope and nature of the conversion.


Q5: Are there any VAT concessions available for energy efficiency improvements in commercial properties?

A: VAT concessions may be available for energy efficiency improvements, such as reduced or zero rates on certain supplies and services that meet specific environmental standards.


Q6: How do VAT rules apply to commercial properties used by charities?

A: Charities may qualify for zero-rated VAT on purchases of commercial properties if the properties are used for non-business, charitable activities. However, if the property is used for business purposes, standard VAT rules apply.


Q7: What is the impact of Brexit on VAT for commercial properties in the UK?

A: Brexit has led to changes in VAT legislation and procedures, particularly in relation to transactions between the UK and EU countries, affecting import VAT and the recovery of VAT on services.


Q8: How can a business deregister from VAT, and what are the implications for commercial properties?

A: A business can deregister from VAT if its taxable turnover falls below the deregistration threshold. This impacts the ability to recover VAT on commercial property expenses going forward.


Q9: What are the VAT implications for commercial properties under a leasehold arrangement?

A: VAT implications for leaseholds can vary; opting to tax the property can make rental income subject to VAT, whereas not opting may restrict VAT recovery on related costs.


Q10: How do changes in the VAT rate affect existing commercial property contracts?

A: Changes in the VAT rate can affect existing contracts if they are not fixed for VAT, potentially leading to adjustments in pricing and VAT liabilities for both parties.


Q11: Are there any specific record-keeping requirements for VAT transactions related to commercial properties?

A: Yes, detailed records must be kept for all VAT transactions related to commercial properties, including invoices, receipts, and documentation of any opt-to-tax decisions.


Q12: How does VAT affect property development projects involving multiple stakeholders?

A: For development projects with multiple stakeholders, VAT considerations must be clearly addressed in project agreements to determine how VAT is handled and recovered among the parties.


Q13: What are the rules for VAT grouping with commercial properties?

A: VAT grouping allows entities under common control to be treated as a single taxable person for VAT purposes, which can simplify VAT treatment across group-owned properties.


Q14: Can a business claim VAT on professional fees related to commercial property transactions?

A: Yes, VAT on professional fees for services directly related to commercial property transactions is generally recoverable if the property is used for making taxable supplies.


Q15: What is the VAT treatment for commercial properties used in international trade?

A: Commercial properties used in international trade may be subject to specific VAT rules, particularly regarding imports and exports, and may benefit from VAT reliefs.


Q16: How does the VAT domestic reverse charge affect commercial property transactions?

A: The VAT domestic reverse charge can apply to certain construction services related to commercial properties, changing how VAT is accounted for and paid to HMRC.


Q17: What are the implications of not opting to tax on subsequent property sales or leases?

A: Not opting to tax can restrict the recovery of input VAT related to the property and may make future sales or leases exempt from VAT, affecting profitability.


Q18: Are there specific VAT considerations for historic or listed commercial properties?

A: Listed or historic commercial properties may qualify for reduced or zero-rated VAT on approved alterations and repairs, depending on compliance with specific conditions.


Q19: How can disputes over VAT on commercial property transactions be resolved?

A: Disputes over VAT should ideally be resolved through negotiation and mediation; however, legal recourse through VAT tribunals is available if necessary.


Q20: What are the VAT implications for short-term commercial property rentals?

A: Short-term commercial property rentals may be treated differently for VAT purposes, potentially qualifying for the Tour Operators' Margin Scheme if certain conditions are met.

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