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Bettie Goes Solo: Reaching The Dreaded VAT Threshold

Here we are swimming along nicely in your company’s financial year. Things are going well. You’re growing at a nice pace, attracting more customers and seeing some marketing and sales wins. At your month end, you notice your YTD figures are coming close to the VAT threshold. Suddenly, your world turns dark and the knot in the pit of your stomach becomes much tighter and more noticeable. Ewwwwww VAT you think. What does that even mean? How on earth am I going to make sure that this is done properly and why do I even care?

Well, let me tell you it’s not as bad as you might think. As a right brained individual that has never, and will never, call accounting my strong suit, the thought of all this VAT malarkey was pretty terrifying.

So, as I’ve been through it and lived to tell the tale, I thought it best to share some tips on how to get through this next phase of your business.

If you’re looking like you might turn over in excess of £85,000 in your financial year then it’s a fact of life that you’re going to need to get yourself VAT registered. I didn’t wait until I was right up against the threshold to start thinking about it. You see, anything to do with accounting and HMRC scares the pants off me so I started to get my proverbial ducks in a row much sooner than I needed them. Looking at my sales projections, I knew roughly when I would have to register, so it’s a good idea to do a bit of forecasting.

And while I’ve managed to get the process kick-started without too much fuss, it does all seem like money for nothing. But you really need to acknowledge that this is a good thing and push your business through this tricky period where cash flow may become an issue. But first things first, let’s talk about registration.


Passing on the cost

If you’re selling direct to customer, VAT registration can have a real impact on your bottom line. Essentially, you’re adding 20% on to the cost for the customer or having to absorb an extra 20% in the current price to pay HMRC. Before you’re due to get registered, it’s important to understand what that looks like for your business.

For me, it was important to start growing the wholesale side of my business where VAT basically has a cancelling out effect. Growing this side meant that I was able to only raise my direct to customer costs slightly and absorb the remainder so that the VAT bill at the end of the quarter wasn’t enough to wipe me out completely.


Get organised, like I’m talking seriously organised

Your first VAT return will be the most complicated, but it’s also an opportunity to claim back all the VAT you’ve been paying to other businesses. Before you’re registered, you absorbed that additional 20% that almost every business sticks on the end of an invoice. For the six months prior to registering, you can claim all of that back in your first return. Plus any assets that are still in the business that have been purchased up to four years prior.

So if you have a bag of receipts sitting in the corner of your office that you’re perpetually promising to sort out tomorrow – stop your dilly-dallying and get them sorted: today. If you don’t you’re likely to miss something that you could have claimed back.


There’s nothing like professional advice

As a small business, it’s sometimes not the easiest decision to hire a professional to deal with things like accounting. After all, there’s got to be a million blog articles and YouTube tutorials on this and they’re all free. But let me tell you, the time it would take you to understand the process and all the ins and outs would be huge. And then you’ll never know if you’ve done it correctly until the tax man comes knocking at the door.

That’s a knock that I never want to answer, so my biggest and most important piece of advice is to talk to a professional about this process. Even if it’s not an ongoing monthly retainer, just getting someone to make sure you’re heading in the right direction will make it easier to sleep at night.

When my business registered for VAT, I thought it would be weeks of work on my behalf – even though I use accountants every month for all my bookkeeping/payroll and accounts. And you know what? It so wasn’t anything like that.

With that in mind, I asked my lovely accountant Lauren Harvey the Director at Full Stop Accounts if she wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of wisdom with us when it comes to VAT registration.


What are the biggest mistakes you see businesses making when they become VAT registered?

Know who your customer is. What I mean by this is who are they, and the usual sales and marketing reasons behind this.

Also, from an accounting perspective, are they VAT registered? Here’s why with some numbers as an example:

  • If you are charging a VAT registered business £100 + VAT this gets to £120. This only (as a general rule) costs the business £100 and therefore being VAT registered won’t cost them any more with you being VAT registered. 
  • If you a charging a non-VAT registered business £100 + VAT this gets again to £120. This now costs the business £120 and therefore if your customers are non-VAT registered takes some careful consideration whether you can pass this ‘increase’ all on to them or whether you might have to reduce your sales prices in order to not alienate/lose clients.

It’s not your money, so be disciplined as your bank balance will often look healthier than it used to (i.e having £120 instead of the previous £100). But get into the habit of knowing your VAT position regularly and have separate savings account to ‘save’ this ready for the VAT quarter end.

Ultimately, it’s a positive thing your business turnover is likely to be close, if not exceeding, £85k a year!


Is the registration something that you think businesses can take care of themselves? Or is better to get a professional to handle it?

Registration can be simple as it is basically an online form. Just be sure you are you doing at the right time, and importantly on the right scheme (as discussed further below).


Once registered, is the process of VAT returns a one-size-fits-all system? Or are there different ways of applying to your business?

I’d definitely recommend reading up/get advice on the different options and make sure you’re choosing the right scheme. The two most talked about options to choose from right away are:

  • Flat Rate 
    If you have a turnover less than £150,000 then you can apply to pay a fixed rate of VAT to HMRC less than the 20% you would have charged on your Vatable sales. You then keep the difference instead of claiming VAT back on your purchases as per standard VAT.
  • Standard rate
    You charge VAT at 20% on your sales you then deduct the VAT you’ve paid on any business purchases (Including import VAT) and the difference is what you pay to HMRC usually quarterly (although you can apply for monthly or annually instead).


When completing a VAT return are there particular VAT-traps that some businesses fall into? How do you avoid these?

Remember to include pre-Registration expenses. You can claim back six months of VAT paid on services prior to registration. Also, you can reclaim VAT on goods bought up to four years before registration that are still being used in the business. This applies to Flat Rate and Standard schemes – although, after the first VAT return, Flat Rate can only claim VAT on purchases of assets which costs over £2000 per item.

VAT on entertainment is often a big trap for people. You can only reclaim VAT on entertaining your employees but not when it’s directors only or clients.


If you could give one piece of advice to someone coming close to the threshold, what would it be?

There is a new HMRC initiative starting in April 2019 called Making Tax Digital (MTD) whereby any VAT registered business will be required to submit their VAT information quarterly through HMRC-approved software. So, now’s the time to get a good system in place to make sure you’re ready and also then use the information such as the following to the benefit of the business.

Have a plan placed on all the points discussed above – the first two returns are often the scariest – prepare a cash projection after asking the following questions:

  • Who is your Customer?
  • What Scheme?
  • What can I claim prior to registering?
  • What can I claim going forward?
  • What difference is this going to make to my profitability?
  • What difference is this going to make to my cash flow?
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Andy is the owner of Bettie Confetti, a snarky greeting cards line available at Not On The High Street, Etsy and select independent retailers in the UK. To get professional advice about VAT, search for an AAT licensed accountant near you.

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