VAT: the option to tax explained
The VAT treatment of property can be challenging. Normally, supplies of land and buildings are exempt
from VAT. There are some exceptions to this, the prime examples being the sale of new residential
property, (zero-rated) and the freehold sale of new commercial property, less than three years old
(standard-rated). But in most other cases, when property is sold or rented, no VAT changes hands and
the person making the supply is debarred from recovery of VAT on associated expenditure. Where this
poses a significant business issue, the option to tax is sometimes useful.
The option to tax is just that – a choice. It’s effectively about turning an exempt supply of property
into a taxable supply. It applies to the sale or rent of commercial property, not to residential
property. Opting to tax means you then charge VAT at standard rate on any supplies you make of the
opted property and can recover input tax incurred in making the supply. Where supplies are both taxable
and exempt, say where a building is used for both commercial and residential purposes, recovery should
be restricted to input tax relating to the taxable supply only. If you rent out a flat over a shop, for
example, the rents you receive for the flat will still be exempt from VAT, even if you have an option
to tax covering the building as a whole. This may affect the amount of input tax that can be reclaimed.
It’s a decision with long term implications. Though an option can be revoked, this can usually only be
done after 20 years. There are commercial implications, too: opting to tax adds to the cost of your
supply, possibly deterring clients unable to recover input tax. Further along the line, you may need to
factor in any interaction with the VAT Capital Goods Scheme; the impact on disposals which are
treated as the transfer of a going concern; and the interaction with Stamp Duty Land Tax on sale.
Bespoke advice is therefore recommended before any decision is made.
In the news
HMRC has recently changed its administrative and confirmatory procedures where someone notifies it of
the option to tax. From 1 February 2023, the only acknowledgement it will provide is an automated
email response. This means that HMRC’s automated email response becomes part of your VAT records, and
should be kept appropriately. Additionally, it is no longer responding to requests to confirm the
existence of an option to tax except where the effective opted date is likely to be more than six years
ago, or in circumstances such as insolvency.
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