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VAT deduction and non-economic activities: art or science?

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Not only exempt supplies lead to a VAT cost. Non-economic activities can too. Once thought the preserve of charities and ‘non-business’ entities, a succession of recent cases has confirmed that even fully taxable, wholly for-profit businesses can find themselves engaged in non-economic activity with a consequent VAT hit. It is not always clear when it is possible to look through such activity and preserve VAT recovery. It seems clear that an ‘objective’ approach is required, but the outcome can be challenging to predict. Case law suggests that the size, importance and regularity of the non-economic activity and its underlying purpose all seem important, together of course with the amount of related VAT that HMRC might argue it ‘consumes’. 

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