The recent tribunal case of Taste of Thai Ltd (TC2721) dealt with a penalty for late VAT registration; specifically when the VAT became due for the purposes of calculating the penalty rate.

Background

The restaurant deregistered for VAT in 2008 as its turnover fell below the threshold.

On 17 November 2011 the business notified HMRC that it should have been re-registered for VAT from 1 March 2011.

HMRC checked the figures and found that it should have actually been re-registered for VAT from November 2010 (it had failed the historic test at 30 September 2010).

As a result a penalty for late registration was issued, with HMRC acknowledging that the failure to notify was not deliberate and the disclosure unprompted.

HMRC said that the disclosure was made more than 12 months after the tax became due. Therefore the penalty range was 10% to 30%.

HMRC levied a penalty of £966; equivalent to 10% of the tax due, so full mitigation for the quality of the disclosure was given.

The Case

The taxpayer appealed the penalty on the basis that the disclosure was made within 12 months of the tax being due.

The legislation states that a lower minimum rate of 0% will apply if HMRC ‘becomes aware of the failure less than 12 months after the time when tax first becomes unpaid by reason of the failure’.

Therefore the tribunal had to establish when the tax became unpaid.

It was agreed by both parties that the taxpayer should have re-registered for VAT from 1 November 2010.

However, HMRC felt that the tax become unpaid at this point, i.e. from when they should have charged VAT on their goods and services. Therefore as the disclosure was made on 17 November 2011 more than 12 months had passed.

Conversely the taxpayer argued that the VAT did not become unpaid until it was required to be paid over to HMRC, i.e. a month after the quarter end.

The earliest possible quarter end would have been 30 November 2010, with the tax being due on 31 December 2010.  Therefore the taxpayer argued that the disclosure was made within 12 months.

The Decision

The tribunal said ‘it would have been a very simple matter, if parliament had intended Date 1[the date tax becomes unpaid] to be…. the effective date of compulsory registration, for it to say so’.

The logic behind the wording was so that a taxpayer who is initially a repayment trader is not deprived of the opportunity of a 0% non-notification penalty until, broadly 12 months after he becomes a “repayment” trader.

‘There is a link between the 12 month period starting to run and the start of the potential loss to the public purse’.

Therefore they found ‘no reason not to take these words [of the legislation] at face value’

As a result they agreed with the taxpayer and concluded that the ‘time when the tax first becomes unpaid’ is the due date for payment of the VAT.

The earliest possible date for payment was 31 December 2010 and the disclosure was made on 17 November 2011; therefore the disclosure was made within 12 months.

The tribunal found ‘no reason to interfere with HMRC’s view that the quality of the disclosure merited 10% mitigation within the available range’.

The taxpayer’s appeal was allowed and the penalty reduced to 0% – i.e. no penalty would be due.

Rather interestingly as an aside the tribunal said that if the disclosure had been made later (i.e. January 2012), they would have required evidence of HMRC policy on the first VAT accounting period which would have been allocated.