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One minute with...Alan Sinyor

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What’s in your ‘in-tray’?
Apart from the usual mixof high value real estate and corporate work, I am currently working on some exciting international structuring projects. I also have several contentious VAT issues on my desk, some of which I mention below. 
Why did you specialise in VAT? 
Initially, I was attracted by the fascinating mix of high level conceptual analysis, on the one hand, and the very practical nature of the tax, on the other. Also, I enjoy looking at situations from different perspectives, and in any VAT issue one needs to consider the differing standpoints of the supplier, the customer, and HMRC, as well as the various layers of EU and domestic law.
Comment on a topical issue in VAT that you are involved in.
I am currently taking an appeal to the Upper Tribunal in relation to a strike out application made by HMRC against our client’s case. The case raises fundamental questions about whether HMRC has an obligation to provide rulings to private individuals who seek to challenge the VAT treatment of goods and services which they have purchased, and whether such individuals can reclaim any overcharged VAT directly from HMRC. In my view, these are fundamental principles of the VAT system, which, somewhat surprisingly, are only now being clarified.
There has been news recently about your groundbreaking case on telecoms. Can you outline the issue?
When you make a call to someone outside the EU, the VAT rules say that to the extent that the ‘effective use and enjoyment’ is outside the EU, no VAT should be charged. HMRC takes the view, generally accepted by the telecoms industry, that effective use and enjoyment for this purpose is limited to that of the caller. In my view, the plain language of the law indicates that one can also take into account the use and enjoyment of the person called. If so, every individual, charity and business in the country has been paying, and continues to pay, too much VAT on such calls. 
Another interesting issue which arises is how far customers could go back in reclaiming overpaid VAT from their telecoms provider and/or HMRC. That is an interesting, and as yet unresolved, question. In my view, anyone potentially affected should consider making a protective claim as soon as possible.
If you could change one aspect of the VAT system, what would it be?
The current limitation on zero-rating for food so as to exclude nutritional supplements. The exclusion of such supplements from the scope of ‘food’ is based on a very early tribunal decision and is, in my view, certainly worth revisiting. Many in the supplements industry, and retailers, cannot understand why HMRC differentiate between different types of supplements, such as green powders, algae, and bee pollen, applying VAT to some products but not others. I am currently challenging this treatment with HMRC, arguing that the tribunal decisions in this area are based on an incorrect reading of the law. We hope to litigate before the FTT in 2016. If I win, it is possible that many nutritional supplements could become zero-rated.
Finally, you might not know this about me but…
I recently completed the ‘100 day juice feast’, raising money for charity and learning how to enjoy organic kale juice!