The construction industry has continued to lobby against a VAT reverse charge (VRC) as it grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the UK-EU transition period, but the measure looks set to come into force on 1 March 2021.
The industry’s largest trade bodies, including the Federation of Master Builders and Build UK, have campaigned for the VRC to be permanently scrapped on the grounds that it would harm the industry’s smallest firms and, amid the twin economic uncertainties of coronavirus and exit from the EU, at the worst possible time.
In June 2020, HMRC delayed the implementation of the VRC on building and construction services until March this year due to the impact of the pandemic on the construction sector. This followed a previous announcement in September 2019 that it would delay the introduction for a year in response to concerns that businesses were not ready to implement the changes, with the original implementation date intended to coincide with Brexit.
The VRC will have a major impact on construction businesses as they will need to adapt their accounting systems for dealing with VAT. Under the VRC, the UK customer that gets supplies of construction services, rather than the UK supplier, must account for the VAT due on these supplies on their VAT return.
There will be a negative impact on the cash flows for many affected businesses, as they will no longer get VAT payments from customers for services where the reverse charge applies. The VRC will not apply where the construction services are supplied to an "end user" or where a supplier is an "intermediary supplier" that is connected or linked to the end user.
In September 2020, HMRC issued a technical guide alongside practical guidance for suppliers and customers on the VRC. The guidance highlights the change that was made to the rules requiring end users or intermediary suppliers to notify their sub-contractors in writing that they are end users or intermediary suppliers in order for businesses to be excluded from the VRC. HMRC has produced a form of suitable wording in its technical guidance that can be used for the notification.
In its technical guidance HMRC states it will apply a “light touch” in dealing with errors during the first six months of the application of the reverse charge (provided that those errors were made in good faith). The guidance goes onto confirm that penalties will be considered in that period, only if the parties are deliberately taking advantage of the measure by not accounting for VAT correctly.