HMRC’s new VAT domestic reverse charge for construction services comes into force on 1 October 2019. It will require the recipient rather than the supplier to account for the VAT due on certain construction services.
The domestic reverse charge will be introduced without a transitional period and will have a significant impact on the cash flow of businesses in the construction sector, as well as bookkeepers and accountants with clients in the sector.
The aim of this measure is to combat ‘missing trader’ fraud in the construction sector in a similar way to the previously introduced domestic reverse charges for the sale of computer chips and mobile phones.
Under the new regime, a VAT-registered business that supplies certain construction services to another VAT-registered business for onward sale will be required to issue a VAT invoice stating that the service is subject to the domestic reverse charge. However, it is the recipient that must account for the VAT due on that supply through its VAT return, instead of paying the VAT amount to the supplier. The recipient may recover that VAT amount as input tax, subject to the normal rules.
Unlike other types of reverse charge the value of such reverse charge services will not count towards the VAT registration threshold, which is good news for smaller businesses.
Which services will it apply to?
The new domestic reverse charge will apply to supplies of ‘specified services’ between VAT registered businesses where the recipient then makes an onward supply of those specified services. Specified services are generally services that are defined as construction operations for purposes of the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS). Among those included are construction, alteration, repair, extension, painting and decorating, plus the demolition of buildings, civil engineering and the installation of heating, lighting and air-conditioning. The legislation is designed so that if there is a reverse charge element in a supply then the whole supply will be subject to the domestic reverse charge.
Where specified services have been provided then subsequent services on the same site by the same supplier may also be covered by the domestic reverse charge, if both parties agree. This has been introduced to speed up the decision making process on whether the domestic reverse charge should apply. However, where the original services did not come within scope of the domestic reverse charge, but subsequent services do, then the VAT treatment changes. Businesses will need to review and monitor the VAT position throughout a project.
Some services will not fall within the scope of the domestic reverse charge; however, where there is a reverse charge element in a supply then the whole supply may be subject to the domestic reverse charge.
The domestic reverse charge will apply to specified services unless:
- The services are supplied to an end user, such as the property owner, or directly to a main contractor that sells or lets a newly completed building
- The recipient makes onward supplies of those construction services to a connected company
- The recipient is not VAT registered, or required to be VAT registered
- The recipient is not registered for the CIS
- The supplier and recipient are landlord and tenant or vice versa, or
- The supplies are zero-rated.
An end user is a person who receives the specified services for any purpose other than making an onward supply of those services. Where the customer has not provided confirmation that it is an end user either in writing, an email, or in the contract, HMRC’s guidance is that the supply will come within the scope of the domestic reverse charge and no VAT is charged.
However, on occasions it will be clear to the contractor that its customer is an end user and should be charged VAT, but the customer has not given confirmation. In these cases HMRC’s latest guidance says that it will be acceptable to charge VAT in the normal way. In addition to confirming if the customer is an end user it should also be a requirement for them to confirm their VAT and CIS status and provide their VAT number. It is recommended that this is confirmed in the contract before any invoices need to be raised.
Where goods and building materials are provided together with construction services and in the course of the construction work then the reverse charge also applies to these goods. There are likely to be cases where it is difficult to determine if there is a separate supply of goods that is excluded from the reverse charge, or whether they are to be included as part of a single supply of construction services. In these cases, a business will need to consider the position further to ensure the correct VAT treatment.
Invoices for services subject to the domestic reverse charge must include all the information required on a normal VAT invoice. However, they must make it clear that the domestic reverse charge applies and that the customer is required to account for the VAT. There is no specific wording but HMRC provide examples of suitable wording:
‘Reverse charge: VAT Act 1994 Section 55A applies’
‘Reverse charge: S55 VATA 94 applies’
‘Reverse charge: Customer to pay VAT to HMRC’
Where customers issue authenticated tax receipts or self-billing invoices HMRC’s recommended wording is:
‘Reverse charge: we will account for and pay the output tax due to HMRC’
‘Reverse charge: as the UK Customer we will pay the VAT due to HMRC’
Impact on construction businesses
Construction businesses will need to ensure their accounting systems are capable of processing reverse charge supplies and make ongoing checks to ensure that supplies and purchases are correctly treated. As the VAT amount must still be shown on invoices subject to the domestic reverse charge, the risk that suppliers will account for the VAT to HMRC in error and customers will recover it from HMRC is clear.
Subcontractors that rely on VAT collected from their customers as working capital until they have to remit it to HMRC are likely to suffer from the loss of cash flow. These businesses and even their customers will need to consider if payment terms need to be revisited to avoid problems in the supply chain.
Subcontractors will also need to confirm that they are working for a VAT registered business and whether they are working for an end user, or for someone connected to an end user, including landlords and tenants.
What action should construction businesses take?
Construction businesses should:
- Review supplies made to and received from other VAT registered contractors to establish where these will be subject to a reverse charge from October 2019
- Obtain notification from customers that they are an end user and confirmation of their VAT registration and CIS status
- Consider any adaptions required to ensure accounting systems can deal with this change and
- Consider the impact on cash flow from October 2019 and if there are any other ways to mitigate this.