A Comprehensive Guide for UK VAT: How VAT Works in the UK

Navigate UK VAT effortlessly with our guide. Learn about registration, obligations, and exemptions. Stay compliant and thrive in your business endeavors.
How VAT Works in the UK

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Hey there, fellow entrepreneurs! Have you ever felt puzzled by VAT and its impact on your business’s bottom line in the United Kingdom? You’re not alone. In our comprehensive guide, we cut through the confusion, explaining how VAT works in the UK business landscape.

Let’s dive in and make UK VAT work for your business, not against it. Get ready to demystify, decode, and conquer the world of VAT!

What is VAT in the UK?

VAT, or Value-Added Tax, is a consumption tax imposed on most goods and services sold by VAT-registered businesses in the United Kingdom. It is a broad-based tax applied at every stage of the supply chain, from production to the final sale to the consumer. Businesses are responsible for collecting and remitting VAT to the UK government, adding it as an extra cost to their prices and fees. Ultimately, the end consumer pays the VAT.

In the United Kingdom, the standard VAT rate is 20%, but some goods and services are subject to lower rates of 5% or 0%. VAT helps generate significant revenue for the UK government.

How Does VAT Work in the UK?

VAT works on a straightforward theory. The taxation of consumers is based on the value of the goods they purchase. This is the fundamental concept of VAT. There are percentage-based VAT rates, which means that as the price increases, so does the VAT rate.

Let’s look at an example here:

A company manufactures widgets and sells them for £100 each to a retailer. The company charges the retailer VAT at 20%, so the total price is £120. The retailer then sells the widgets to consumers for £150 each, including VAT.

The company has to pay the VAT it collected from the retailer to HMRC. The retailer can reclaim the VAT paid to the company on the widgets as input tax, but only if it is VAT-registered. The consumer pays the VAT on the widgets to the retailer. The retailer then passes this VAT on to HMRC.

The company and the store collect taxes for HMRC. They are responsible for collecting and delivering VAT from their customers to HMRC.

Should I Register for UK VAT: VAT Threshold in the UK

The critical question for businesses like yours is, “When should my business start charging UK VAT?”

Your business should start charging UK VAT once your taxable turnover exceeds the VAT threshold, currently £90,000. Any takings on goods and services after your gross income surpasses £90,000 within 12 months must include VAT.

Earnings made before reaching this limit: businesses do not need to include VAT on selling their goods or services. They are also exempt from registering with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

For instance, if your business earns £95,000 over a year, upon VAT registration, only £5,000 is taxable turnover for VAT. The remaining income is exempt from VAT. If your earnings are £89,999 or less, you are not required to pay VAT.

This threshold provides flexibility, allowing businesses to manage their finances effectively and maintain competitive pricing.

Even if your taxable turnover is below the threshold, you can voluntarily register for VAT. Some businesses opt for voluntary registration because it allows them to reclaim VAT on their purchases and appear more credible to customers.

However, if your business makes VAT-exempt sales, you may be restricted from registering for VAT.

How Can I Do VAT Registration in the UK?

Registering for VAT (Value Added Tax) in the United Kingdom is a crucial step for:

  • Businesses that have exceeded the VAT threshold or plan to register voluntarily.

  • Non-resident businesses that supply taxable goods and services in the UK must register for VAT, irrespective of their turnover. They must charge and collect VAT on their sales to UK customers.

But how do you register VAT for your UK business? Wait a bit! Before moving on to the registration process, ensure your business is eligible for VAT registration.

After this, you must follow the necessary steps given below to register for VAT in the UK:

  1. Create a Government Gateway account.

  2. If you are a non-resident, appoint a UK VAT representative.

  3. Gather the required information and documentation (if required).

  4. Log in to your Government Gateway account.

  5. Once logged in, you can use the VAT online services to register for VAT online.

  6. The online registration process will guide you through various questions about your business and its activities.

  7. After providing the required information, you must submit the VAT registration form online. Make sure to cross-check all the information you provide to ensure accuracy.

  8. HMRC will review your application, and if everything is in order, they will send you a VAT registration certificate. This includes:

There are certain situations when you need to register for VAT via post. To register via post, you must check out our complete guide to VAT registration in the UK.

What VAT Is Charged on?

Once you register for VAT with HMRC, you should start charging VAT in the UK. But which items are charged with VAT?

VAT (value-added tax) is charged on various goods and services. These are also known as ‘taxable supplies.’ Here are specific examples of what VAT is charged on:

Goods and Services

In the UK, businesses typically charge VAT on their products and services. This includes electronics, clothing, restaurant meals, and various services businesses offer.

Hiring or Loaning Goods

Suppose a business rents or loans goods to someone; VAT is charged on the rental or loan amount. This applies to items like equipment, vehicles, or tools provided for temporary use.

Selling Business Assets

When a business sells its assets, such as property, vehicles, or machinery, VAT is charged on the sale value of these assets.


Businesses that earn commission on sales, services, or transactions must charge VAT on the commission fees they receive.

Items Sold to Staff (e.g., Canteen Meals)

If businesses sell items to their staff, such as meals in the company canteen, VAT is charged on these sales.

Business Goods Used for Personal Reasons

If business goods, like company vehicles or equipment, are used for personal reasons by employees or owners, VAT is charged on the estimated value of the personal use.

‘Non-Sales’ Transactions:

VAT applies to non-sales transactions like bartering (exchanging goods or services without money), part-exchange (trading in old items for new ones), and gifts (when businesses give away goods or services).

What Items Are Exempt from VAT in the United Kingdom?

While most goods and services are subject to VAT, there are specific VAT exemptions in the UK. We’ve discussed what VAT is charged for in the previous section. Now, let’s delve into what items are VAT-exempt:

Most Food Items

Essential food items, such as bread, milk, vegetables, and meat, are VAT-exempt. However, certain items, like prepared meals or restaurant food, are subject to VAT.

Prescriptions and Medical Supplies

Prescription medications, medical equipment, and supplies are VAT-exempt to ensure affordability for healthcare.

Public Transport

Fares for buses, trains, trams, and other forms of public transport are VAT-exempt, making commuting more accessible.

Educational Services

Schools, colleges, and universities, as well as closely related services, are VAT-exempt. This includes tuition fees and specific educational materials.

Finance and Insurance

Some financial services, like loans and insurance, are exempt from VAT. However, fees charged by financial intermediaries for these services are usually subject to VAT.

Cultural Activities

Entry to museums, art exhibitions, and performances by orchestras and theaters is often VAT-exempt, promoting access to cultural experiences.

Postal Services

Essential postal services, such as sending letters and parcels, are VAT-exempt to support communication and correspondence.

Charitable Activities

Donated goods for fundraising events are a typical example of supplies made by charities for charitable purposes that are often VAT-exempt.

Businesses must identify these taxable supplies correctly and charge the appropriate VAT. Failure to charge VAT on taxable supplies when required can lead to legal and financial consequences.

You should consult tax professionals for accurate VAT applications in various business transactions.

How to Charge VAT?

Now that we’ve explored what items are VAT-exempt, let’s focus on how to charge VAT in your business operations correctly.

Charging VAT in the UK involves several vital steps to ensure compliance with tax regulations:

  • Identify the VAT status of your goods and services. Determine whether they are standard-rated (20%), reduced-rated (5%), zero-rated (0%), exempt, or outside the scope of VAT.

  • Decide whether to display prices inclusive of VAT or exclusive of VAT. For consumer-facing businesses, prices are usually shown inclusive of VAT. For business-to-business transactions, prices are typically exclusive of VAT.

  • Issue VAT invoices to your customers, including specific information required by HMRC. VAT invoices are essential for reclaiming VAT on your business purchases.

  • The invoice must include your-
    • Business name, address.
    • VAT number.
    • Unique invoice number.
    • Customer details.
    • A description of the goods or services.
    • The total amount excluding VAT, including VAT and the VAT amount.

  • Calculate the VAT amount correctly.

  • Maintain accurate records of all sales and purchases, including VAT amounts. This documentation is crucial for VAT returns and audits.

  • Submit regular VAT returns to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), detailing the VAT you’ve collected and the VAT you’ve paid on your business expenses.

  • And ensure timely payments to avoid penalties and interest charges.

By following these steps, you can charge VAT correctly, fulfill your tax obligations, and maintain smooth financial operations for your business. If in doubt, consult with tax professionals or use accounting software to help automate VAT calculations and submissions, ensuring accuracy and compliance with VAT regulations.

VAT Procedures: How Does VAT Function?

Now, let’s continue this journey by delving deeper into the VAT procedure—which contains VAT rates, calculating VAT, filing VAT returns, and understanding submission deadlines.

VAT Rates in the UK

When understanding VAT rates in the UK, it’s very important to determine the VAT status of your goods and services. VAT status determines how goods or services are taxed. In the UK, different VAT rates apply to various products and services:

  1. Standard Rate (20%): Most goods and services are subject to the standard rate of 20%. This includes everyday items and various services offered by businesses.

  2. Reduced Rate (5%): Some items qualify for a reduced VAT rate, including domestic fuel and power, children’s car seats, and particular home renovations.

  3. Zero Rate (0%): Certain goods and services are subject to a 0% VAT rate. This category includes most basic food items, books, and public transport fares.

  4. Exempt and Outside Scope: Some items are either exempt from VAT or fall outside the scope of VAT. Exempt supplies include education and healthcare services, while outside-scope transactions might include non-profit activities and certain financial services.

By understanding the VAT status of your offerings and the corresponding rates, you can confidently choose the correct VAT for your business transactions.

A Comprehensive Guide for UK VAT: How VAT Works in the UK

VAT Schemes in the UK

In our journey to understand VAT and correctly charge it in the UK, let’s explore various VAT schemes from which businesses can choose.

Understanding VAT schemes in the UK is pivotal for choosing the right VAT approach for your business. The UK offers several schemes tailored to business needs, making VAT management more efficient. Here’s an overview:

  • Standard VAT Scheme: Most businesses with a taxable turnover exceeding £90,000 must use the standard VAT scheme in the UK. Under this method, you charge VAT on your sales, pay VAT on your purchases, and submit quarterly VAT returns to HMRC.

  • VAT Cash Accounting Scheme: This allows you to account for VAT based on payments received and made rather than invoice dates. It benefits businesses with cash flow challenges, as you only pay VAT to HMRC when you’ve received payment from your customers.

  • Annual Accounting Scheme: Under this scheme, you submit one VAT return annually but make advance payments towards your VAT bill. The annual accounting scheme suits businesses with fluctuating turnovers, providing better cash flow management and reducing administrative burden.

  • Flat Rate Scheme: The Flat Rate Scheme makes VAT calculations easier. Instead of calculating VAT on each transaction, you pay a flat percentage of your turnover to HMRC. This varies based on your industry. While you can’t reclaim VAT on most purchases, it streamlines record-keeping and can be financially beneficial for certain businesses.

    The VAT flat scheme can be cost-effective if your VAT-eligible expenses are relatively low.

  • VAT Margin Scheme: The VAT Margin Scheme in the UK is a unique scheme for second-hand goods, antiques, and art. Businesses registered under this scheme only pay VAT on the profit margin (the difference between the buying and selling prices) rather than the total selling price. This makes it advantageous for businesses involved in the resale of eligible items.

  • Retail Scheme: Retailers can benefit from the Retail Scheme, which simplifies VAT calculations for sales with varying VAT rates. It ensures correct VAT treatment for mixed goods, ensuring compliance while reducing complexity.

    Choosing the suitable VAT scheme depends on your business model, turnover, and industry. Each scheme has unique advantages, enabling you to manage VAT efficiently and focus on growing your business.

Evaluate your needs, consult with tax professionals, and consider your cash flow requirements to select the most suitable VAT accounting scheme.

VAT Calculation

Once you have identified the VAT rate that applies to your goods or services, it’s time to calculate VAT. Understanding how to calculate VAT accurately is fundamental for every business. To calculate VAT for charging correctly in the UK:

Decide whether your prices will include VAT (standard for consumer-facing businesses) or exclude VAT (standard for business-to-business transactions). This choice impacts how you present prices to your customers.

  • To calculate VAT on sales, multiply the net sale amount (excluding VAT) by the appropriate VAT rate (e.g., 20% for standard-rated items). This gives you the VAT amount to add to the net sale, providing the total price inclusive of VAT.

    Example: If the net sale is £100 and the VAT rate is 20%, the VAT amount would be £100 x 0.20 = £20. The total price, including VAT, is £100 (net sale) + £20 (VAT) = £120.

  • When reclaiming VAT on your business expenses, calculate the VAT amount by multiplying the gross amount (including VAT) by the fraction of the VAT rate.

    For example, to calculate the VAT amount on a total purchase of £120 (including 20% VAT), divide £120 by 1.20 (1 + 0.20) to get the net amount (£100). The VAT amount is £120 – £100, or £20.

  • You may be partially exempt if your business makes VATable and exempt supplies. In this case, you need to calculate the input VAT you can reclaim based on the proportion of your VATable turnover to the total turnover. HMRC provides guidelines for businesses dealing with partial exemption

You can also use online VAT calculators or accounting software tailored for VAT calculations to calculate VAT correctly in the UK. These tools can automate the process, reducing the risk of errors.

VAT Return

Understanding VAT in the UK also involves comprehending VAT returns, a crucial aspect of charging VAT correctly. But what is a VAT return in the UK?

VAT returns are periodic reports businesses registered for VAT submit to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Businesses registered for VAT must submit VAT returns online, whether they pay or reclaim VAT.

You must maintain accurate records once you have determined the total VAT amount you have collected from your customers as output tax and the total VAT you’ve paid on your business purchases as input tax.

These records are needed to submit the VAT return form that HMRC provides. After submitting the VAT return, you need to complete your VAT payment.

When Do I Need to Pay UK VAT?

Understanding VAT in the UK also involves knowing when to pay it. VAT payment is a vital part of your business’s financial obligations.

Owners of VAT-registered businesses must submit VAT returns to HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) to declare the amount of VAT they must pay. VAT returns are typically filed quarterly, with the return and accompanying VAT bill due within 37 days of the end of each quarter.

Most businesses must submit and pay a VAT return and bill by May 7th for the quarter that ended on, for example, March 31st. Timely submission and payment are essential to avoid penalties and remain compliant with VAT regulations.

It’s crucial to keep track of the VAT filing deadlines and ensure that your VAT returns accurately reflect your VAT liability. Additionally, consider setting up reminders or using accounting software to help you meet these critical deadlines.

What Are the Options If I Can’t Pay VAT?

In business, managing your finances, including paying VAT, is essential. If you find yourself unable to pay your VAT, there are options you need to consider:

Submit Your VAT Return

Even if you can’t pay the VAT immediately, don’t delay submitting your VAT return. Accurate reporting is crucial.

Contact HMRC for a Time to Pay (TTP) Arrangement

You can arrange a time-to-pay (TTP) arrangement with HMRC. This arrangement allows you to pay your tax bill in monthly installments. Typically, TTP arrangements do not extend beyond 12 months, and you are expected to pay in full within three months.

How to Contact HMRC

How you contact HMRC depends on whether you’ve received a payment demand (e.g., a tax bill or a letter about pending legal action). If you’ve received a payment demand, contact the HMRC office that sent the letter. If you haven’t received a payment demand, call the Payment Support Service.

Seek Professional Guidance

Work closely with your accountant to develop a plan for meeting your payments on time. Your accountant can help you explore financial options to bridge your cash flow gap.

By taking proactive steps and seeking assistance when needed, you can navigate financial challenges and maintain compliance with tax regulations. Remember, open communication with HMRC and professional guidance can be invaluable in finding solutions to address UK VAT payment difficulties.

Can I Claim VAT Back in the UK?

Businesses frequently wonder if they can get their VAT back in the United Kingdom. The answer lies in the goods and services you’ve purchased for your business.

  • You can reclaim VAT on goods and services used exclusively for your business operations. This includes computers, office furniture, transportation, and third-party vendor costs, such as accountants.

    However, it’s important to note that you cannot reclaim VAT on goods and services intended for personal use or on expenses related to business entertainment.

  • Reclaiming VAT involves completing a quarterly VAT return. This process entails calculating the difference between the VAT your business has paid and how much your business has charged during an accounting period.

To ensure you navigate this process correctly and maximize your VAT reclamation, we recommend seeking advice from a qualified business tax expert. They can provide tailored guidance based on your unique business circumstances and needs. They can help you save time, money, and potential headaches in the long run.

Responsibilities as a VAT-registered Business

As a VAT-registered business in the UK, you have several responsibilities to ensure compliance with tax regulations:

Include VAT in Prices

You must include VAT in the price of all goods and services you sell at the correct rate. This means the prices displayed to your customers should reflect the inclusive VAT amount.

Maintain VAT Records

Keep detailed records of the VAT you pay for goods and services purchased for your business. Proper record-keeping is essential for accurate VAT calculations and compliance.

Account for Imported Goods

Account for VAT on any goods you import into the UK for your business. This includes understanding the applicable VAT rates and ensuring proper documentation for customs clearance.

Submit VAT Returns

As mentioned above, report the VAT you charged your customers and the VAT you paid to other businesses by submitting a VAT return to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Typically, VAT returns are filed every three months.

Pay VAT Owed

Pay any VAT you owe to HMRC within the specified deadlines. The VAT you pay is usually the difference between the VAT you’ve paid to other businesses and the VAT you’ve charged your customers.

Lastly, regularly consulting with tax professionals can help you navigate the complexities of VAT regulations and fulfill your obligations accurately. Proper accounting practices and timely submissions are crucial to avoiding penalties and legal issues related to VAT.

VAT Penalties

VAT registration is a legal obligation, and failure to comply with these rules can result in penalties and, in severe cases, even a custodial sentence.

The penalty for late registration with HMRC is calculated as a percentage of the VAT due (output tax less input tax) from the date

  • when your business should have registered to the date.

  • when either HMRC received your notification or became aware that you must be registered.

The penalty rate depends on how late your registration is, such as:

  • If registered no more than 9 months late, the penalty rate is 5%.

  • If registered more than 9 months late but not more than 18 months late, the penalty rate is 10%.

  • If registered more than 18 months late, the penalty rate is 15%.

Additionally, HMRC may impose surcharges if they do not receive your VAT return or full payment by the deadline. These surcharges can amount to up to 15% of the outstanding VAT at the due date. HMRC also has the authority to impose penalties of up to 100% of any tax understated or overclaimed if your business submits inaccurate returns.

HMRC strongly emphasizes VAT compliance, and businesses must ensure they account for VAT correctly. Remember, adhering to VAT regulations is crucial to running a compliant and successful business.


Q1: Is VAT registration mandatory in the UK?

Answer: VAT registration in the UK is mandatory for businesses with a taxable turnover exceeding £90,000. VAT registration is optional for companies with smaller sales volumes.

Q2: How much does it cost to register for VAT?

Answer: Registering for VAT in the UK is generally accessible. However, costs may be associated with the professional advice or assistance you seek to ensure a smooth VAT registration process for your business.

Q3: How do you check if the company is VAT-registered?

Answer: You can check if a company is VAT-registered in the UK by verifying its VAT number on the official HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website or by contacting the HMRC helpline.
Additionally, you can confirm VAT registration by requesting a VAT certificate directly from the company.

Q4: Do charities need to pay VAT?

Answer: Charities in the UK are generally exempt from paying VAT on most goods and services they purchase, as well as on income from fundraising events. However, they must still register for VAT if their taxable turnover exceeds the threshold.


In conclusion, understanding and managing UK VAT is vital for businesses. Proper registration, accurate record-keeping, and timely submissions ensure compliance. Seek professional advice and confidently navigate VAT regulations for a successful business journey.

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