Why it pays to be your own VAT inspector

By: Tax Donut contributor

Date: 22 February 2016

Why it pays to be your own VAT inspector{{}}With 2016 well underway, now is a good time to check in on those business-related new year’s resolutions you made in January. Have you stuck to them?

One key area that all business leaders should be committed to this year - and beyond - is getting their VAT in order. The consequences of poor VAT planning range from an administrative headache to serious financial implications that could close down a company. So what can be done to minimise the risk?

Check levels of VAT understanding

Business leaders often have a good understanding of VAT but if they aren’t handling it day-to-day, then they must ensure that other members of the team understand their responsibilities as well.

In some businesses this lies with the financial director and their team; in others it will be administrative staff that are processing orders. It is not uncommon for different individuals within the same firm to have varying levels of VAT knowledge and to be taking different approaches - introducing standards across the board can help improve consistency and make VAT compliance more simple.

Know the VAT exceptions

VAT is full of variables and exceptions to the rule, so an awareness of these is vital. This is especially true in sectors such as education and charities, where processing staff may enter purchases as standard rate for VAT and fully recoverable from HMRC without realising that VAT recovery for the cost may be restricted or not possible, potentially costing money.

There are also many exceptions when it comes to entertainment and other business expenses and this is an area that is commonly checked by VAT inspectors. Taking time to understand the ins and outs of VAT recovery and the VAT treatment of supplies will pay dividends in the future.

Don’t leave it too late

It is all too common for VAT to become a focal point at the end of a VAT quarter. This can cause multiple issues. Firstly, the due date for the VAT return may have passed which can cause the firm to become liable for default surcharge penalties.

Secondly, if there are unusual/one-off transactions, leaving it until the last minute to seek advice can cause an administrative nightmare as well as unnecessary stress on your staff. Thirdly, you could have cashflow problems if the VAT due is much higher than expected.

These issues can be rectified by keeping a constant check on VAT throughout the year, so that when the VAT return is due for submission it can be quickly and effectively compiled. Any VAT deadlines should be strictly observed, with simple reminders set up on the company calendar.

Act like a VAT inspector

One effective approach is to assume the role of an HMRC inspector and carry out an audit of your business. To begin with, audit the basics and check whether teams are accounting for VAT on all expenses and income correctly. Complete an audit trail to follow the company processes from start to finish in order to flag up any gaps.

Take a look at the figures to ensure they flow correctly and look for inconsistencies. Also, do sense checks to prevent costly transposition and other processing errors. Do this regularly and you'll avoid nasty surprises when it comes to an official inspection.

By adopting these measures throughout the year, business owners and managers can regain control over VAT planning, preventing it from becoming a burden. As with many business lessons, the key lies in strong organisation and effective processes that are well communicated to everyone within the company and reviewed on a regular basis.

Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Tamara Habberley, senior VAT consultant, The VAT People.

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