VAT changes may cause construction chaos

Update – This has been delayed until 1 October 2020.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is warning that a major change in the way that VAT is accounted for in the building and construction sector which takes effect later this year may cause chaos.

The VAT domestic reverse charge for building and construction services applies from 1 October 2020. It is an anti-fraud measure – an administrative change, impacting invoicing and VAT return procedures. With a reverse charge, a VAT-registered recipient of services accounts for VAT, rather than the supplier.

The rules will apply to VAT-registered businesses where payments are required to be reported through the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS), the charge will be used along the supply chain, until the recipient is no longer a VAT-registered business making an onward supply of specified construction services.

With the new rules, suppliers (VAT-registered subcontractors), will state on their invoices that supplies are subject to the reverse charge. Contractors will then use their VAT returns to account for output VAT on supplies received, instead of paying output VAT to their suppliers. Subject to normal VAT rules, the contractor can reclaim VAT on supplies received as input tax, usually leaving no net tax payable on the transaction. Where there is an ‘end user’, it will be expected to provide notification of end user status to suppliers, signalling that a supplier should charge VAT as usual.

Reverse charge will not affect zero-rated supplies: nor some circumstances where suppliers are connected to end users, for example landlords and tenants. The reverse charge covers ‘specified services’ – essentially construction services as defined for CIS purposes. Where services – such as those of architects, surveyors and some consultants – are supplied on their own, they are not covered by the reverse charge. If supplied along with supplies subject to the charge, the whole supply will be subject to the charge. The reverse charge also includes goods, where supplied with specified services.

The FMB are warning that the government has not properly prepared the construction industry for this major VAT change. New data from FMB shows that:

  • over two-thirds of construction SMEs (69%) have not even heard of the reverse charge VAT and
  • of those who have, more than two-thirds (67%) have not prepared for the changes.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said:

Construction companies are already struggling with Brexit uncertainty, sky-rocketing material price rises and skill shortages and reverse charge VAT is yet another thing for them to deal with. What makes things worse is that HMRC has failed to deliver on its promise to help the industry to prepare. The guidance is not user-friendly and even tax experts are scratching their heads over it.’

‘It’s therefore not surprising that the vast majority of construction SMEs are not aware of the impending changes, despite widespread promotion by the FMB. Small business owners are busy people and clearly they don’t have time to read everything we send them. For those who are aware, they haven’t had a chance to change their systems yet as they were waiting for guidance to be published that has only just emerged. That’s why we are calling on the Government to delay the changes by another six months and to use the extra time to improve the guidance and work with us to undertake a more intensive communications campaign. HMRC should also consider holding workshops across the country to explain the changes.’

Businesses affected by the new rules are recommended to plan now to adapt accounting and IT systems. The reverse charge may also impact business cash flow. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further advice.

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