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Who can submit a VAT Return?

Any small business that is VAT registered can, and must, submit a VAT return to pay HMRC what they owe or to reclaim VAT on business expenses.

There are a number of ways in which you can submit your VAT return, including: submitting your own VAT return online, using VAT return software or using accountants or tax agents.

As you can see, it does not matter who submits the return, as long as it is done on time and provides all necessary information.

Submitting a VAT Return online

Most small businesses which are VAT registered will submit their VAT return online. You must submit your return online unless:

  • Your business subject to an insolvency procedure, though you can still submit if you have an Individual Voluntary Arrangement or a Company Voluntary Arrangement.
  • You have a disability which prevents you from using computers
  • Use of electronic devices is prohibited by your religion
  • You have no access to the internet

If none of these apply, then you can submit your return through the Government Gateway system.

Once in your Government Gateway account page, log in to your VAT online profile and fill in the due return. Just remember to keep a record of the reference number for every submission, as they will provide proof that you have provided the information if this were ever in doubt.

Using VAT Return software

If you would prefer to use commercial accounting software to help you complete your VAT returns, then that is fine. The important thing to check is whether or not the software comes with an option to send your VAT returns directly to HMRC, or whether you will have to submit the final numbers yourself via the method outlined above.

Using accountants or tax agents

In order to allow a third-party, such as an accountant or tax agent to submit VAT returns on your behalf, you must note your authorisation with HMRC. This is a very simple process and simply requires you to log in to your company’s online VAT account

When do I need to submit my return?

Your VAT due date will depend on the date you registered for VAT, as well as what accounting scheme you are using. For most small businesses, VAT returns are usually submitted to HMRC quarterly (at the end of each ‘accounting period’).

The deadline for completing the online VAT return and paying your VAT to HMRC are usually the same – both 1 calendar month and 7 days after the end of your last accounting period – unless you are using the VAT Annual Accounting Scheme.

To find out your specific VAT return due dates, you can look them up via your VAT online account.

Your VAT online account will tell you:

  • The dates your VAT returns are due.
  • When the payment must be received by HMRC (note that you have have to leave several working days between paying and the payment being received into HMRC’s account).

What happens if my VAT return is late?

If you do not submit your return by the due tax date, HMRC will issue a ‘VAT notice of assessment of tax’. Such a notice will inform you of the amount they have estimated that you owe them.

If you do receive a VAT notice of assessment of tax, then you should file your VAT return and make the payment to HMRC as soon as possible. If you do receive a notice and the estimated VAT is too high, unfortunately you will not be able to appeal – thus it is important that you file your return by the due date.

It is also worth noting that you are legally obliged to inform HMRC if the amount they have calculated is too low. You can either contact them to do this, or simply submit a correct VAT Return with the proper amount due. If you fail to do this, then you could find yourself issued with a penalty or surcharge.

What to include in a VAT return

Your VAT return should include all of the relevant information for the given accounting period, such as:

  • All sales and VAT collected
  • All purchases and VAT paid
  • Total VAT owed
  • Total VAT you are eligible to reclaim
  • Your VAT refund from HMRC

While you don’t have to submit invoices with your return, you must ensure that all evidence is in order in case HMRC were to ask to see them at a later date.

If you are a VAT registered business, you must submit a VAT return, even if you have no VAT to owing or owed.

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