Business Tax

Making Tax Digital for Business: VAT

HMRC is phasing in its landmark Making Tax Digital (MTD) regime, which will ultimately require taxpayers to move to a fully digital tax system. Under the new rules, businesses with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold (currently £85,000) must keep digital records for VAT purposes and provide their VAT return information to HMRC using MTD functional compatible software.

The new rules have effect from 1 April 2019 where a taxpayer has a 'prescribed accounting period' which begins on that date, or otherwise from the first day of a taxpayer's first prescribed accounting period beginning after 1 April 2019. For some VAT-registered businesses with more complex requirements the rules will not have effect until 1 October 2019. Included in the deferred start date category are VAT divisions, VAT groups and businesses using the annual accounting scheme.

The government has now confirmed that a light touch approach to penalties will be taken in the first year of implementation. Where businesses are doing their best to comply, no filing or record keeping penalties will be issued.

The focus will be on supporting businesses to transition and the government will not be mandating MTD for any new taxes or businesses in 2020.

Comment

Keeping digital records will not mean businesses are mandated to use digital invoices and receipts but the actual recording of supplies made and received must be digital. It is likely that third party commercial software will be required. Software is not available from HMRC. The use of spreadsheets will be allowed, but they will have to be combined with add-on software to meet HMRC's requirements.

In the long run, HMRC is still looking to a scenario where income tax updates are made quarterly and digitally, and this is really what the VAT provisions anticipate.

Corporation tax rates

Corporation tax rates have already been enacted for periods up to 31 March 2021.

The main rate of corporation tax is 19%. The rate will fall to 17% for the Financial Year beginning on 1 April 2020.

Capital allowances

Plant and machinery

In the Autumn Budget, the government announced an increase in the Annual Investment Allowance for two years from £200,000 to £1 million in relation to qualifying expenditure incurred from 1 January 2019. Special rules apply to accounting periods which straddle this date.

Other changes made to plant and machinery capital allowances include:

  • a reduction in the rate of writing down allowance on the special rate pool from 8% to 6% from April 2019. This includes long-life assets, thermal insulation, integral features and expenditure on cars with CO2 emissions of more than 110g/km. Special rules apply to accounting periods which straddle this date
  • the end of the 100% first year allowance and first year tax credits for products on the Energy Technology List and Water Technology List from April 2020.

Structures and buildings

A new capital allowance, the Structures and Buildings Allowance, gives relief for expenditure on certain structures and buildings. The allowance is available for new structures and buildings intended for commercial use, and the improvement of existing structures and buildings, including the cost of converting or renovating existing premises to qualifying use. Relief is limited to the original cost of construction or renovation and given across a fixed 50-year period, at an annual flat rate of 2% regardless of changes in ownership.

Only certain expenditure will qualify. The structures or buildings must be brought into use for qualifying activities. These include trades, professions or vocations and certain UK or overseas property businesses - essentially commercial property lettings.

Relief will be given on eligible construction costs incurred on or after 29 October 2018. Where a contract for the physical construction work is entered into before this date, relief is not available.

Comment

Since the ending of Industrial and Agricultural Buildings Allowances, no relief has been available for most structures and buildings. The new allowance addresses the gap and is intended to encourage investment in construction for commercial activity.

Draft legislation has been published for comment.

Intangible fixed assets

The Intangible Fixed Assets regime, which was introduced from 1 April 2002, fundamentally changed the way the UK corporation tax system treats intangible fixed assets (such as copyrights, patents and goodwill). Generally, the regime taxes gains and losses on such assets as income and gives relief for the cost of acquiring such assets as and when the expenditure is written off in the company's accounts.

However, since 8 July 2015, the amortisation of goodwill has not been eligible for relief. After a review of the rules, the government has now decided to introduce targeted relief for the cost of goodwill but only in relation to the acquisition of businesses with eligible intellectual property. Companies that acquire goodwill on or after 1 April 2019 will receive relief for goodwill up to a limit of six times the value of any qualifying intellectual property assets in the business being acquired. The categories of qualifying assets include: patents, registered designs, copyright and design rights and plant breeders' rights. Relief will be given at a fixed rate of 6.5% in all cases.

The restriction on relief will continue to apply in relation to internally-generated goodwill acquired in a related party incorporation. Goodwill acquired prior to 1 April 2019 will continue to be subject to the tax treatment prevailing at the time it was acquired.

Preventing abuse of the R&D tax relief for SMEs

Budget 2018 announced that, from 1 April 2020, the amount of payable R&D tax credit that a qualifying loss-making company can receive in any tax year will be restricted to three times the company's total PAYE and NICs liability for that year. This is to help prevent abuse of the payable credit system The government has now announced that a consultation will be published and will focus on how the measure will be applied, to minimise any impact on genuine businesses.

VAT Partial Exemption and Capital Goods Scheme

The government will publish a call for evidence on potential simplification and improvement of the VAT Partial Exemption regime and the Capital Goods Scheme - ensuring they are as simple and efficient for taxpayers as possible.

VAT fraud in labour provision in the construction sector

The government will pursue legislation to shift responsibility for paying VAT along the supply chain with the introduction of a domestic VAT reverse charge for supplies of construction services with effect from 1 October 2019. Draft legislation and guidance has been issued.

The domestic reverse charge will affect supplies of 'specified services' at the standard or reduced rates where payments are required to be reported through the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS). Therefore supplies between sub-contractors and contractors, as defined by CIS, will be subject to the reverse charge unless they are supplied to a contractor who is an end user. End users will usually be recipients who use the building or construction services for themselves, rather than those who sell the services on as part of their business of providing building or construction services.

There will be exclusion from the reverse charge for certain supplies such as the manufacture of building or engineering equipment. But the reverse charge will apply to goods, where those goods are supplied with the specified services.

Comment

A domestic reverse charge means that a contractor receiving the supply of specified construction services must account for the output VAT due rather than the sub-contractor who supplied the services. The contractor also deducts the VAT due on the supply as input VAT, meaning no net tax is payable to HMRC. This removes the scope to evade any VAT owing to HMRC.

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