Construction sector VAT shakeup

Government are considering an extension of the VAT reverse charge to include the construction sector. The reverse charge process places the responsibility for paying VAT on the customer instead of the supplier. In their explanatory notes on this topic HMRC said:

What is being done and why

7.1 This instrument, with effect from the 1st October 2019, applies a reverse charge to certain supplies of construction services in order to remove the opportunity for missing trader fraud in the construction sector.

7.2 Missing trader fraud is an organised criminal attack on the VAT system. The fraud is perpetrated through transaction chains in certain business sectors with the loss occurring when the VAT charged by the supplier is not paid to HMRC but is retained by the recipient.

7.3 This type of fraud has been used by criminals to steal billions of pounds in VAT from governments throughout the European Union, both in relation to domestic supplies such as construction services, and also in connection with cross-border intracommunity trading in goods such as mobile telephones, computer chips and emissions allowances. A reverse charge for mobile telephones and computer chips was introduced with effect from 1st June 2007 and one for emissions allowances was introduced with effect from 1st November 2010. Further reverse charge measures were introduced for gas and electricity with effect from 1st July 2014 and for electronic communications with effect from 1st February 2016.

7.4 Construction services have been targeted by criminals because labour-only suppliers in the sector do not incur any significant VAT on their costs but can charge VAT to customers and then go missing, keeping the VAT for themselves. This instrument makes the reverse charge apply to construction services which, for these purposes, have been defined consistently with the activities covered in the Construction Industry Scheme. This is a statutory scheme which is concerned with tackling the risk of direct tax fraud in the construction industry.

7.5 The risk of fraud in the construction industry is principally centred around the supply of construction services between construction businesses in the supply chain and this instrument, therefore, does not require other types of business to apply the reverse charge when receiving construction services and there is also no reverse charge requirement in relation to building and construction materials that are supplied separately and independently of construction services.

7.6 Reverse charge accounting makes it impossible for fraudsters to perpetrate missing trader fraud because the customer rather than the supplier accounts for the VAT direct to HMRC.

7.7 The introduction of the reverse charge in this business sector will mean that businesses will need to adapt their systems and manage their cash flow differently. Due to the large number of small businesses potentially affected by a reverse charge TNA/EM/10-2015.1 3 for construction services the government has given a long lead-in time to help businesses

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