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What will a potential cut in VAT mean for business owners?

By Steve McCrindle, VAT Partner with Haines Watts

The big question on everyone’s lips right now is will the Chancellor Rishi Sunak cut VAT to stimulate spending and boost the post-Coronavirus economy? Steve McCrindle, VAT Partner with Haines Watts discusses some of the implications for business owners.

During the last economic recession, we saw reductions in the standard rate of VAT and that could well happen again post-Covid19. It is something that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already recommended. Some articles in the Press are predicting that the rate of UK VAT may even be cut to as low as 15%.

We have already seen various countries bringing in measures to stimulate the economy through VAT reductions. There have been VAT reductions in a number of countries including Germany, Austria, Norway, Moldova and Kenya, usually temporary reductions with some aimed at stimulating parts of the economy those countries are renowned for.

For example, Germany has announced an intended €130billion COVID-19 stimulus package, including a cut in the standard rate of VAT from 19% to 16% and the reduced VAT rate of 7% to 5% both from 1 July to 31 December 2020. This measure will cost Germany €20billion.

Germany had already announced a cut in the VAT rate on restaurant and catering services from the standard rate of 19% to the reduced of 7% between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021, and which will now additionally benefit from the reduction to 5% for the last six months of 2020.

There are predictions that a potential reclassification of the VAT rate in the UK could be introduced for those sectors which have been hit the hardest, such as hospitality with a reduced rate for hotels, restaurants and cafes.

In the UK, the Government has already brought in other reliefs for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and similar goods to help stop the spread of Coronavirus.

More recently I helped a client with these particular reliefs. My client had bought PPE from China and was to supply this on to an NHS Trust. In normal circumstances, that PPE would have been potentially subject to Customs duty as well as Import VAT, the duty being an irrecoverable cost.

Steve McCrindle
Steve McCrindle

The PPE would also have been subject to VAT on the onward supply to the NHS Trust, which in turn would likely not have been able to recover that VAT so charged. However, a further relief meant my client was also able to supply the PPE to the NHS Trust at a zero rate, i.e. VAT free, meaning the NHS Trust did not incur an irrecoverable VAT cost.

These are temporary reliefs implemented by the Government to enable PPE to be brought into the country with the least economic and physical barriers, in order to get it to where it is needed soonest.

So, if you use this and the German examples, it’s easy to see how a VAT rate cut could stimulate spending power and profit, and get the economy rolling again quickly. I believe the Government will do it.

We’ve already seen things starting to move in the construction industry after the Government allowed the sector to return to work earlier than the rest of us. There was a new VAT measure which was due to come into force for the construction industry on October 1st this year. That has now been postponed for five months to allow the sector to focus on getting itself going again.

What do businesses need to consider if the VAT rate changes?

There are a number of things that business owners need to consider if the rate changes suddenly. This includes, amongst others, how they will calculate the new rate if prices are already inclusive of VAT, as is the case for most retailers. They will also have to decide whether they pass on any benefits to customers.

Changes to accounting software will also need to be made as well as working out how deposits paid prior to the rate change, but invoiced after will be dealt with. The same goes for any sales made prior to the rate change but invoiced afterwards.

One thing is certain, the VAT rate change certainly needs to be substantial for it to significantly impact consumer spending and buying habits, and stimulate the economy.