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Reverse charge changes and the construction industry

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HMRC has been publicising, with varying degrees of success, the launch of a new VAT domestic reverse charge for specific supplies within the construction sector, starting from 1 October 2019. The aim being to reduce the amount of VAT fraud in the construction industry (and in particular CIS traders) by asking customers to self-account for the VAT due on a supply, rather than it being charged by the supplier. Only invoices issued for services supplied to the ‘end user’ are always excluded from the scheme. Such services would be subject to normal VAT accounting rules.

HMRC’s latest guidance seeks to clarify details of the new regime and provides examples of how the reverse charge will work in practice. However, the guidance also contains some important changes. These include: a de minimis threshold for supplies made to one customer; where the reverse charge only applies to part of the services; the concept of ‘intermediary’ suppliers being deemed to be end users and excluded from the new rules; the inability to use the cash accounting scheme where the reverse charge applies; and the exclusion of employment businesses supplying construction workers from the new rules.

This wholesale change to VAT accounting in the construction sector also includes specific requirements regarding invoicing and the issuance of certificates by end users and comes into effect from 1 October 2019. HMRC is promising a light touch on penalties for the first six months following implementation, provided that HMRC feels that the taxpayer has attempted to follow the new rules. What will be considered enough weight of evidence that an attempt has been made to follow the new rules is not clear.

Our experience suggests that the construction industry is not yet ready for these changes. In particular, the cashflow issues that will be created by businesses no longer temporarily benefiting from holding the VAT charged, in bank accounts for up to three months, prior to submitting a VAT return and making payment to HMRC. In addition, customers may be slower to pay suppliers, compounding the cash flow issues from not holding VAT in accounts, as invoices showing VAT charged incorrectly will be rejected until they are compliant under the new domestic reverse charge rules.

Karen Gibbons & Ian Carpenter, RSM (RSM’s Weekly tax brief)