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July Question and Answer Section

Newsletter issue - July 2013.

Q. My company provides website hosting for businesses based in the UK and in other countries. For VAT purposes is this treated as a sale of goods or services?

A. There is an easy rule of thumb to decide whether something is goods or services for VAT purposes: can you pick it up and hold it? Yes: goods, No: services. Website hosting can't be physically picked-up therefore it's a service. There are some complex VAT rules for selling services across international borders. You need to know whether your customer is in business or not. Broadly if the customer in another country is a business you do not charge VAT. We need to talk through the detail of what you declare on your invoice and what evidence to collect from your customer.

Q. I run my own consulting company in the UK, which pays my Brazilian wife a small wage for answering the phone and preparing marketing materials. Can the company pay for her to complete an advanced English course at the local college?

A. Training for any employee can be charged through the company if it is relevant to the employee's duties or future duties. An ability to speak and write correct English is necessary for your business so the proposed English course is work-related training for your employee. Your company can pay for the course, and receive a tax deduction for that cost. There will be no benefit in kind charge for your wife. The company can also pay for travel to the course. You should list the duties your wife performs for the company, and both sign the document as part of her employment terms with the company. This description of her duties will justify the training cost, should the Taxman ever ask.

Q. I bought a 200 acre farm last year, where I will be raising rare-breed animals for the high-end restaurant market. I've incurred a lot of costs on fencing and equipment. Can I claim back the VAT on those costs? I've not registered for VAT yet, as my sales have been low so far. I understand there is a simple flat rate scheme I could use.

A. You can't claim back VAT on your costs until your business is VAT registered. However, at VAT registration you can reclaim VAT paid on goods purchased in the four years before registration which are still held at registration date. VAT on pre-registration services can be reclaimed but only for services purchased in the 6 months before registration.

As your main product will be meat, which is zero rated for VAT purposes, you are likely to reclaim VAT every quarter, rather than paying VAT to HMRC. The flat rate scheme for small businesses is not suitable for businesses that regularly reclaim VAT. There is a flat rate scheme just for farmers, but it is very rarely used. We need to discuss the details of your proposed sales to see which VAT scheme may be suitable.