How Does Vat Work?

The term “taxes" makes most business owners feel the blues. Among a plethora of confusing compliances stands the ones related to how does VAT work. Many business entities consider VAT (Value Added Tax) to be an administrative nightmare. It could be finicky, difficult, and time-consuming.

If you make any error, you might end up facing unwanted consequences. Thus, it’s imperative to understand how does VAT work?  Similar to VAT, many financial concepts may seem foreign to new entrepreneurs. When you first start a business and create an entire organisation, you will need to remain aware of the applicability of VAT to your company and the compliances you need to follow.

In the United Kingdom, whether or not a business entity has to register for VAT legally is determined by its yearly sales and the sort of products it sells. Companies that are not required by law to register may even voluntarily opt to get VAT registration. VAT rates vary depending on the goods and the conditions. While there are certain exceptions, almost all product offerings get subjected to VAT on almost every transaction for a prominent number of British business firms.

Thus, before delving deeper into how does VAT work, let us first understand the meaning of VAT.

What does VAT mean?

The Value Added Tax is a form of indirect tax levied on nearly all products and services sold in the UK. Basic idea behind VAT is that customers pay a tax on the items they buy based on the product’s value. VAT rates are calculated as a percentage, implying that the higher the price, the more the buyer pays. You may want to know how vat on food is charged.

The concept of VAT denotes that a business venture adds VAT to its product prices or service fees as an additional expense and then collects this tax on behalf of the government. VAT is a form of consumption tax since the final consumer is liable to pay the tax rather than the seller. An enterprise charges it at the time of the sale of its goods or services. It works on the principle of “Ad-valorem."

While VAT registered firms charge their customers VAT on the goods and services they offer, they also pay VAT on the goods and services they acquire, such as raw resources, consulting services, or inventory. However, VAT registered firms (excluding flat rate registered enterprises making non-capital purchases of less than £2,000) can claim back the VAT they paid on business costs. As a result, they are liable to the HMRC for just the difference sum between what they have gathered and what they have paid. HMRC will reimburse them the difference if they have more VAT spend than they earn from consumers.

Which goods and services fall under the gamut of VAT?

To understand how does VAT work, we must first obtain a hold on the majority of goods and services subject to VAT. The ambit of VAT levy covers the following goods and services

  • Commercial sales
  • Loan items
  • Selling company assets
  • Gifts and part-exchange of ‘non-sales.’
  • Commission
  • Items sold to employees, such as hot meals from the office canteen
  • Business products used for personal purposes

All of the products and service offerings leviable to VAT are referred to as “taxable supplies." VAT can be added to the product price for business-to-business transactions where they are marked ‘ex VAT.’ The price includes VAT for direct sales to consumers.

Which entities need to register for VAT in the UK?

Any business venture with a yearly turnover of more than £85,000 is required to register for VAT. If your entity’s annual revenue is less than the specified threshold, you can even opt to enroll voluntarily. If you register for VAT, you need to charge VAT to your consumers. If your clients are other VAT-registered firms, they may be able to recover the VAT you charged them. A business may be able to reclaim the VAT it paid when it further sells its products and collects VAT from them.

How is VAT classified as input and output tax?

The VAT paid and VAT collected in a business gets respectively classified as input and output tax.

  • Input tax is essentially VAT that a firm has paid to its suppliers, whether for goods, costs, or business equipment. It also covers professional services like consultation fees or accounting services and business phone calls, and any products purchased for resale.
  • Output tax is the tax you impose on the products and services your company provides. It is charged and collected from the clients.

How to charge VAT?

The next aspect of how does VAT work is the details regarding VAT charges and how they get imposed. It is quite simple to charge VAT. Simply add VAT to the fundamental cost of the goods and services you provide. The way you handle this is largely dependent on how you charge clients. Most importantly, you must be aware of the correct VAT rate for your goods and services to levy them appropriately and recover any VAT on purchases made by your business concern.

The tariff that applies to your firm is dependent on the products or services you supply. This VAT will be added to the cost of your goods and services when you sell them to clients, irrespective of they are business or non-business customers.

Steps To keep in mind while levying VAT

How does VAT work in the UK?

As a business owner, it is indispensable to comprehend how does VAT works and affects your business operations. When you reach the VAT tax threshold, you must begin charging VAT. The first step involves notifying HMRC that you want to register for VAT. This enables you to submit a VAT return, which is akin to a self-assessment tax return.

Once you’ve registered for VAT with HMRC, you’ll need to start keeping VAT records. These records must include information on the VAT you collected from your clients as well as the VAT you have paid. VAT registration is required; if you file a tax return for your firm exceeding the £85,000 level but do not register for or pay value-added tax, you will face inquiries and fines. VAT is not an optional tax in such cases. Checkout here UK VAT regulations for overseas goods.

VAT is levied on the vast majority of products and services. VAT-registered firms are unpaid tax collectors, collecting VAT on the items they sell and remitting the consumption tax to HMRC. However, this does not come without cost. Many VAT-registered firms save money by registering, and the procedure is getting increasingly easy with new VAT rules introduced for sales in 2021.

Businesses are required to collect and pay income tax on all purchases they make. Instead of sending collected VAT to HMRC every time a transaction occurs, companies file a VAT return stating the total they have earned and the total they have paid out within the tax quarter or year, based on the plan they use.

What are the prominent types of VAT rates applicable to businesses in the UK?

There are currently three VAT rates that impact how the VAT works.
VAT Rates

Standard rate

The standard rate for charging VAT in the United Kingdom is 20 per cent. It applies to the vast majority of products and services. Anything considered a luxury item comes into this category, so food items like ice cream and confectionary fall under the levy of the normal rate. A clear understanding of the standard rate is essential for understanding how VAT works.

Reduced rate

A reduced rate applies to products deemed to be essential for the public. These include kid car seats, energy-saving activities, a variety of fees for charity, and mobility assistance for the elderly. The reduced VAT rate is 5 percent in the country. Temporarily, the tourism and hospitality sector also fall under the reduced rate category.

Zero rate

The very last VAT category is, which is a notional VAT rate at 0 per cent. One does not charge VAT on sales of these products. They are considered necessities for the public. The examples of zero-rated VAT products and services in the UK are as follows:

  • Children’s clothes and shoes
  • Reservations
  • Medical supplies
  • Equipment
  • Books and newspapers

Rates might vary, and you must levy the revised rates from the day they get amended.

What are the major categories of products and services as per VAT laws of the UK?

When addressing how VAT works, it’s worth mentioning that most items you send to non-EU nations and any commodities you supply to VAT-registered EU firms are zero-rated. Even though the rate does not lead to the levy of a charge to the products, businesses must nevertheless record transactions involving these goods and services and declare them on their VAT return.

Exempt goods/services

VAT registration can be avoided by solely selling zero-rated goods or services. Exemption from registration prevents VAT recovery on corporate purchases or expenditures. VAT-exempt goods and services do not need to be recorded. Medical services, money and credit, and charity fundraising are examples of these.

If you only offer goods and services falling in the exemption category, your company does follow the VAT payment compliances. This also means that you do not need to register for VAT, even if your annual sales reach £85,000. Furthermore, you must note that you would be unable to recover any VAT paid on purchases in your business.

Out of scope items

One must also remember that they cannot charge VAT on items that are out of the scope of the VAT levy. These cover goods and services businesses offer outside the UK. Since they do not fall under the purview of the VAT regulations in the UK, one cannot levy or reclaim the VAT on such items.

Such out of scope items include:

  • Statutory fees paid to UK authorities
  • Goods sold as part of a hobby
  • Charitable donations (Covers donations offered without the receipt of any benefit in return)
  • Goods or services purchased and used outside the United Kingdom

What is a VAT return?

Apart from discussing how does VAT work, it is necessary to address how the VAT return filing process work. While registering for VAT, one must also take into consideration the obligation to duly submit their VAT returns. Businesses can file their VAT returns online. VAT return filing is statutory compliance that all VAT-registered enterprises and individuals must follow. Usually, registered business entities need to file their VAT returns every three months, i.e., quarterly. A VAT return covers the details of all sales of products and services that included VAT payments. Your return will show the amount of VAT collected and the amount of tax due to the government. You may be able to set off and reclaim the VAT charges paid on your purchases.


Professional assistance can be necessary while dealing with tax compliances such as VAT. There are financial and legal repercussions for missing VAT return submissions and payment deadlines. Many CA practices in the UK find it tough to manage their diverse clients’ VAT registrations and return preparation requirements. It is where the tax preparation outsourcing services of noted outsources as Initor Global UK Vat Service Provider can help.

We at Initor Global UK can assist in the ordeals related to VAT registrations, calculations, and return filing. Our firm is a one-stop shop for the finance and accounting outsourcing needs of many CA practitioners in the UK. What distinguishes us is that we believe in total transparency and doing things correctly with the proper set of skills! We’re not simply dealing with statistics; our passion is to use smart technology to change and streamline the finance and tax processes.

Get in contact with our staff right away!

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