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VAT in the UK: A Comprehensive Guide for Businesses

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

What is VAT?

VAT, or Value Added Tax, is a tax added to the price of goods and services in the UK. While businesses handle and pass on this tax, it's usually the customer who ends up paying it. The collected tax is then given to the UK's tax department, HMRC.

Rate Thresholds

VAT in the UK is applied at different rates depending on the type of product or service:

  1. Standard Rate (20%): This is the rate at which most goods and services are taxed. Examples include electronics, alcoholic beverages, and many other everyday items.

  2. Reduced Rate (5%): Some goods and services are taxed at a lower rate. Examples include children's car seats, home energy, and sanitary protection products.

  3. Zero Rate (0%): Certain goods and services are zero-rated. This means that while they're still VAT-taxable, the rate is 0%. Examples include most food items, children's clothing, and books.

  4. Exempt: Some products and services are exempt from VAT altogether, such as certain educational and training services, health services by registered health professionals, and financial services.

VAT Registration Threshold

For 2023 (my last update), the VAT registration threshold was £85,000. This means that if your business's taxable turnover exceeded this amount in the past 12 months, or if you expect it to exceed this in the next 30 days alone, you must register for VAT with HMRC.

VAT Deadlines

Once registered, businesses must submit VAT Returns, usually quarterly. A VAT Return calculates how much VAT a business owes or can reclaim. The deadline for submitting a VAT Return and the payment is typically one month and seven days after the end of an accounting period.

VAT Payment

Payment must be made electronically. This can be through Direct Debit, online banking, Bacs, CHAPS, debit or corporate credit card online, or at your bank or building society if you have the paying-in slips HMRC previously sent you.

Your Responsibilities as a VAT-Registered Entity

  1. Incorporate VAT in Pricing: Ensure accurate VAT rates for all products and services.

  2. Maintain Accurate Records: Document VAT for business-related purchases.

  3. Account for VAT on Imports: Ensure VAT compliance for imported goods.

  4. Quarterly VAT Returns: Report VAT transactions to HMRC every three months.

  5. Settle VAT Amounts: If your collected VAT surpasses your paid VAT, remit the difference to HMRC. If the opposite is true, HMRC will refund you.

  6. Appointing an Agent: For detailed VAT management, consider hiring an expert to liaise with HMRC.

  7. Explore VAT Schemes: Depending on your business operations, one of HMRC's VAT schemes may offer benefits.

VAT Schemes

To simplify VAT for businesses, HMRC offers several VAT schemes:

  1. Flat Rate Scheme: Designed for businesses with a turnover of £150,000 or less, this scheme allows businesses to pay a fixed percentage of their turnover as VAT. They keep the difference between what they charge their customers and pay to HMRC, but can't reclaim VAT on purchases.

  2. Annual Accounting Scheme: Instead of quarterly returns, businesses can pay VAT on account in nine monthly or three quarterly instalments. A final return is then submitted at the end of the year.

  3. Cash Accounting Scheme: VAT is only paid to HMRC once the customer has paid you. Conversely, you can only reclaim VAT on your purchases once you’ve paid your supplier.

  4. Retail Schemes: For retail businesses, there are specific schemes to simplify the process of calculating VAT.

  5. Margin Schemes: Designed for businesses dealing in second-hand goods, art, antiques, and collectables. You pay VAT on the difference between what you paid for the item and the sale price – not on the full selling price.


VAT is an essential aspect of the UK's taxation system. Whether you're a small business owner or an individual, understanding its intricacies can help in navigating the system more efficiently. If unsure, always consult with a professional to ensure compliance and make the most out of any available benefits or schemes.

Note: This article serves as a general guide. Rates, thresholds, and regulations can change, and it's crucial to keep updated directly from official sources or consult with professionals for specific guidance.

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