How to claim back VAT from an overseas supplier

Blogs 5 Oct 2021

Businesses can often claim back VAT that has been charged from the tax authority for the supplier. Before you make a claim however, there are several things to consider to maximise your chances of getting it back with minimal effort.

This article was first published in First Voice. Written by Ruth Corkin, Principal and Head of VAT and Indirect Tax, Hillier Hopkins.

The UK’s exit from the EU has seen an increase in VAT amounts being charged by overseas suppliers. However, all is not lost, and businesses can often claim back VAT that has been charged from the tax authority for the supplier.

Is VAT chargeable in the first place?

This is particularly relevant where you have procured services from an overseas supplier. Brexit seems to have confused overseas suppliers of services and many are charging VAT where they don’t need to. In reality, the place of supply of services from an EU perspective remains unchanged. If the supply is business to business, the place of supply is where the recipient belongs. There were exceptions to this rule before 31 December 2020, but those exceptions are still the same.

For example, if you procure a supply of advertising services from Ireland as a business, the place of supply is in the UK, because that is where you are located. You will, of course, be required to account for VAT under the reverse charge and receipt of most services from overseas counts towards your taxable income if you are not registered for VAT already.

The question I get asked most is “What is the issue – the supplier will have paid the VAT to its tax authority?” The problem is that if you have been charged VAT incorrectly, you are not entitled to claim it back. You will need to go back to your supplier and ask for the VAT to be credited and repaid.

The most likely reason why you may have been charged VAT is because you, or someone in the business, has not provided the supplier with the UK VAT registration number. A number of the tax authorities will only accept a VAT registration number as evidence that the services have been purchased by a business.

Therefore, the first remedy is to provide a VAT number and ask for the VAT to be credited and repaid. If the supplier will not (or cannot do this due to its local VAT rules), then the only recourse is via the refund system, but you will need to provide evidence that you have tried to obtain the refund from your supplier.

Refunds from other countries in the EU and EEA

The EU operates what is called the “13th Directive Reclaim” scheme. This is available to VAT registered businesses that have incurred VAT in the EU 27. There are some points to note here, too, before launching into a claim:

  •  A maximum of five claims can be made in the claim year
  •  The claim year is usually 1 January to 31 December each year, but some states operate different dates (eg, Cyprus has a claim year that runs from 1 July to 30 June each year)
  •  You only have six months from the end of the claim year to submit the claim (the “claim period”)
  •  There is a minimum claim value of €400 VAT, and a minimum period of 3 months. This reduces to €50 VAT if the claim is submitted in the last two months of the claim period
  •  The claim is paper-based and will often need to be posted or couriered to the tax authority
  •  Original invoices are usually required but will be returned once the claim is verified (so make sure you take a copy of them before you send them off)
  •  The form may be required to be completed in the language of the country you are claiming from
  •  You may need a tax representative in the country to submit the claim on your behalf (17 member states require a tax representative for anything to do with VAT)
  •  You must not be carrying out any business in the country and you must not be otherwise registerable there
  •  The VAT that can be claimed is based on the invoicing rules for the supplier’s country and also on its reclaim rules. For example, not all member states allow invoices to be in employee names or some member states do not allow the VAT on hotel accommodation, transport or subsistence to be claimed
  •  Incorrect claims could lead to penalties
  •  There is no requirement for the country to pay interest if it takes a long time to verify your claim.

Claims for VAT in countries outside the EU or EEA

Of the 102 countries with a VAT system or similar, only eight have a reclaim system on a par with the UK and EU. These are:

  •  Bahrain
  •  Democratic Republic of Congo (tax representative required)
  •  Japan (Tax representative required)
  •  Jersey
  •  Korea
  •  Lebanon
  •  North Macedonia
  •  Serbia

The following countries allow a refund of VAT for goods that are exported from their territory:

  •  Namibia
  •  South Africa
  •  Zambia

The following countries allow a refund of VAT for exhibitions etc.

  •  Taiwan
  •  Turkey

New Zealand only allows a refund of VAT paid there by a non-established business if it registers for a special VAT scheme.

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