VAT matters - April 2020

Apr 01, 2020
David Duffy discusses recent Irish, EU and UK VAT developments.

Irish VAT updates

VAT compensation scheme for charities
eBrief 21/20 contains updated guidance in respect of the VAT compensation scheme for charities. This scheme is now open in respect of VAT incurred by charities in 2019. The deadline for submitting such claims is 30 June 2020. Charities must satisfy various conditions to make a valid claim and there is a formula for calculating the claim. The total fund available for all claims is capped at €5 million and, if exceeded, this amount will be allocated between valid claims on a pro rata basis. There have been no changes to the scheme, but the guidance provides further details on the terms “total income” and “qualifying income”, which are relevant to the calculation of claims under the scheme.

VAT on telecom services
On 31 January 2020, the Tax Appeals Commission (TAC) published a determination in a case (16TACD2020) involving a mobile telephone operator (the appellant). The case considered the VAT treatment of the appellant’s cancellation charges, unused data, and non-EU roaming on bill-pay mobile phone services, as well as the time limit for making VAT reclaims. The appellant was unsuccessful in arguing for a VAT refund on three counts but did succeed in a claim for a VAT refund on non-EU roaming services. The key points of TAC’s determination were as follows:

  • The appellant was liable for VAT on cancellation charges to bill-pay customers for early termination of their contracts. This followed a similar decision by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in MEO (C-295/17).
  • The appellant was also liable for VAT in respect of customers’ unused data included in the price of their bundle.
  • The appellant’s argument that VAT refunds should extend back further than four years was also rejected. The appellant had sought to argue that it should be equivalent to the five-year refund period available for other taxes, but this was rejected.
  • The appellant was successful in arguing for a VAT refund to the extent that its bill-pay customers used its telecom services outside the EU. Revenue had sought to argue that refunds for non-EU roaming should only be available for pre-pay customers, but this was rejected by the TAC.
While the case is principally relevant to the telecoms sector, some of the principles regarding cancellation charges and equal treatment could have wider application. The determination (which is available on the TAC’s website) is, therefore, a useful read.

Time limits

The question of time limits for VAT refunds was also the subject of a TAC determination (03TACD2020). The taxpayer was engaged in a VAT-exempt business but was entitled to partial VAT recovery on its dual-use input costs to the extent that its services were to non-EU recipients. However, during 2009, the taxpayer had not been aware of its entitlement to partial VAT recovery and therefore had not taken any VAT recovery on its costs. Upon becoming aware of this entitlement, the taxpayer submitted a claim on 31 December 2013, which included VAT incurred before 1 November 2009, which would ordinarily be outside the four-year time limit.

The taxpayer sought to argue that this VAT was still within the four-year time limit because, in the taxpayer’s view, it was an adjustment of its partial exemption VAT recovery rate review for 2009 (which fell due after 31 December 2009). However, the TAC disagreed as the taxpayer had not applied any VAT recovery rate to dual-use inputs during 2009. The TAC concluded that only VAT incurred from 1 November 2009 onwards was correctly included in the claim submitted on 31 December 2013.

While the facts of the case are quite specific, it emphasises the importance of following the appropriate procedures and paying close attention to time limits when submitting a claim for any historic VAT.

EU VAT updates

VAT treatment of boat moorings
Segler (C-715/18) was a German non-profit-making association whose objective was to promote sailing and motorised water sports. It maintained boat moorings, some of which were used by members of the association and others were used by guests.
Segler applied the reduced rate of German VAT as it believed the letting of the moorings fell within the meaning of “accommodation provided in hotels and similar establishments, including the provision of holiday accommodation and the letting of places on camping or caravan sites”. The German tax authorities argued that the standard rate of VAT should instead apply.

The CJEU concluded that the reduced rate could not apply, as the letting of the boat mooring was not intrinsically linked to the concept of “accommodation”.

UK VAT updates

Budget 2020
The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer announced several VAT measures in Budget 2020, which was presented to the UK parliament on 11 March 2020. The key updates are summarised below:
  • The 0% rate of VAT will apply to e-books and online newspapers, magazines and journals with effect from 1 December 2020, bringing them in line with the rate applying in the UK to physical books and publications. The standard 20% rate has applied heretofore. Interestingly, however, the UK Upper Tribunal had already held that the 0% rate correctly applied to such publications in the Newscorp decision, but HMRC has indicated an intention to appeal that decision. Consequently, the position applying before 1 December 2020 remains to be clarified.
  • As a cash flow-relieving measure following the implementation of Brexit, postponed accounting for import VAT will be introduced for all goods imported into the UK with effect from 1 January 2021. Postponed VAT accounting will enable UK VAT-registered businesses to self-account for import VAT under the reverse charge mechanism.
  • From January 2021, 0% VAT will apply to women’s sanitary products.
David Duffy FCA, AITI Chartered Tax Advisor, is Indirect Tax Partner at KPMG.