⚠️ We are currently updating our 2021/22 tax guidance across the website


What is Making Tax Digital for VAT?

Updated on 3 September 2020


In April 2019, HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) first phase of their ‘Making Tax Digital’ programme was introduced, and this was ‘Making Tax Digital for VAT’.

There are two elements to the new Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT rules. These are:

  1. a requirement to keep business records digitally
  2. a requirement to file the quarterly VAT return using API (‘application programming interface’) enabled software
Illustration of hands holding a tablet with the words making tax digital
(c) Shutterstock / Matt Cheveralls

A brief overview of Making Tax Digital for VAT by LITRG

Does the Making Tax Digital for VAT regime apply to me?

The new regime applies to all businesses who were VAT registered and had VATable turnover of £85,000 or more in the 12 months to 31 March 2019 , unless they are exempt. Therefore, it does NOT apply if you are voluntarily registered for VAT.

A business that registers for VAT after 1 April 2019 due to its turnover reaching the registration threshold in the previous 12 months (so were compulsory registered) must comply with the MTD for VAT rules as soon as they become VAT registered.

Any individual, sole trader or business which is voluntarily registered for VAT or is exempt can still choose to join the MTD for VAT regime if they wish.

Who is exempt from the Making Tax Digital for VAT rules?

If you are already exempt from filing your VAT returns online then you continue to be exempt and you do not need to reapply for exemption. Otherwise, exemption from the Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT programme is available if you meet one of three criteria:

  1. It is not ‘reasonably practicable’ for you to use digital tools to keep your business records or submit your VAT Returns because of age, disability, remoteness of location or for any other reason
  2. you or your business are subject to an insolvency procedure
  3. your business is run entirely by practising members of a religious society or order whose beliefs are incompatible with using electronic communications or keeping electronic records

There is guidance on how to claim exemption from MTD for VAT on GOV.UK, and HMRC have also produced more detailed information on exemption in VAT Notice 700/22 T.

You should fully explain the reasons why you believe you meet one of the exemption criteria and then HMRC will write to you to advise whether or not your claim has been successful. If it is not successful you may be able to appeal against the decision and the way to do this will be set out in HMRC’s response to you. You do NOT have to comply with the new MTD for VAT rules while your claim is being considered or while an appeal is being made.

If a claim for exemption is ultimately unsuccessful you must then make every effort to comply with MTD as soon as possible going forward.

The government is helping small businesses with improving their internet connection through gigabit vouchers where businesses can claim up to £2,500 if certain conditions are met. There are more details, including the qualifying terms and conditions, on the gigabit voucher website.

If I am not exempt when do I have to comply with Making Tax Digital for VAT?

The new regime came into effect on 1 April 2019, however the exact date from which you must begin to keep digital records and file VAT returns using API enabled software depends on when you became VAT registered and what your VAT quarters are.

A business that compulsorily registers for VAT on or after 1 April 2019 must comply with the MTD for VAT rules as soon as they become VAT registered.

Most VAT registered businesses which were trading at 31 March 2019 and which are within the scope of MTD for VAT were obliged to register and comply with the MTD for VAT rules between 1 April 2019 and 1 June 2019, depending on their VAT return quarters,

Any trader who should be filing VAT returns under the MTD rules but has not yet registered to do so, should join the scheme as soon as possible. There is a risk that late registration penalties could be charged in these circumstances.

How do I join Making Tax Digital for VAT?

There is a sign-up process that you must follow to register for Making Tax Digital for VAT. The various steps that need to be followed to complete the sign-up process are set out on GOV.UK.

It is important to note that once you join the MTD for VAT programme you must stay in the regime even if your turnover drops below the VAT registration limit unless you decide to cancel your VAT registration.

If you have signed up for Making Tax Digital for VAT voluntarily and your taxable turnover has not gone above £85,000 since you signed up, you can opt out and revert back to using the VAT online services.

What are digital records?

The 'Making Tax Digital for VAT’ regime requires you to maintain business records digitally for VAT purposes in what is known as ‘functional compatible software’ and also to file your VAT returns using digital methods. This means that some kind of electronic record keeping system must be used. This could be an accounting software package, a spreadsheet-based system or maybe via an ‘app’ on a smartphone.

There is no record keeping software available from HMRC, therefore it will be necessary to purchase a commercial system you feel is suitable for your business and within your budget. The cost of the software packages varies between suppliers. Some suppliers offer free products but this may only be for a limited time or may only be for the simplest version of their product. Therefore, you must be careful when reviewing potential software products to try to ensure you get the most suitable product for your circumstances.

HMRC have published guidance relating to finding relevant software. This includes a tool which may help you to select a product which is most suitable for your business. The current version of the tool is rather basic but it is continuing to be developed and changes are made to it periodically by HMRC to improve its functionality.

Your digital record keeping system must also enable you to file the VAT return digitally with HMRC directly from within the software or by using bridging software.

Certain data from business invoices and receipts must be recorded digitally but the invoices and receipts themselves do not need to be scanned and saved digitally, although they can be retained in this way.

If you use more than one software package to keep records and submit returns, you need to link them digitally,

There are examples of software digital links and more information on the data that must be retained digitally in functional compatible software on GOV.UK.

How do I file my VAT return once I am in Making Tax Digital for VAT?

Once you are within the Making Tax Digital for VAT regime, you must file your VAT return using your software. You must not use the HMRC VAT online service to file VAT returns once you have signed up to the Making Tax Digital for VAT programme as they will not be regarded as valid returns and you may be charged a late filing penalty.

The ‘functional compatible software’ must be used to file the VAT return with HMRC. Most accounting packages will have this functionality built in. However, if you use spreadsheets this will not be the case, and therefore you will need to purchase bridging software which will link your spreadsheet to HMRC’s systems and allow the VAT return to be filed. In these circumstances, the combination of the spreadsheet and the bridging software will constitute the ‘functional compatible software’.

Remember that the Making Tax Digital regime is an administrative system and so the figures required for the VAT return itself remain the same and so your VAT payments/refunds will continue to be worked out in the same way as under the previous filing system.

The due dates for submission of the VAT return and the payment of the VAT all remain the same too.

⚠️ However, please note that any VAT payments due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 will be automatically deferred as part of the government’s coronavirus support package for businesses. Payment can be made at any time up to 31 March 2021 and no late payment penalties or interest will be charged. For further information see our page on Coronavirus: Self-employment and paying tax.

What will happen if I do not register for Making Tax Digital for VAT when I should or cannot file my VAT return once I have registered?

If you have tried hard to comply with the new digital record keeping and digital filing requirements and can show you have made a genuine effort to do so, but have slipped up somewhere along the way, or have encountered problems complying due to the coronavirus pandemic, then it is unlikely you will be penalised while the new regime beds in. However, if you have made little or no effort to meet the new requirements then it is more likely that you may be charged penalties in due course.

However, this does NOT apply to late payment of VAT, therefore even if you are struggling to file your VAT return under the new programme, you should still ensure you pay any VAT due at the correct time to avoid possible penalties. You should contact the Business Payment Support Service as soon as possible if you will not be able to pay your VAT on time. If you are struggling to file the VAT return itself then you will probably need to seek help from the software provider in the first instance, as the problem is most likely to be to do with using the software itself rather than an issue which HMRC can help you with.

If I am exempt, how do I file my VAT returns?

If you have been able to file your VAT returns online in the past using HMRC’s online portal then you should continue to file in this way for future returns. However, if you cannot manage online returns at all then you will need to contact HMRC to discuss with them how they wish you to file returns in future. It is likely they will ask you to either call the helpline so that the figures can be taken down by HMRC and then entered onto the VAT system, or possibly allow you to complete paper returns. HMRC can offer specialist support with VAT to vulnerable taxpayers though its Extra Support (EST) service.

Where can I find more information on VAT?

GOV.UK has information on VAT generally including: deadlines for filing and payment, partnerships, reclaiming VAT, VAT visits and inspections, and using VAT online services.

HMRC’s collection of guidance on Making Tax Digital for VAT is also available on GOV.UK.

VAT notice 700/22 has detailed information on the Making Tax Digital programme

HMRC have developed a series of webinars and videos to help you understand Making Tax Digital for VAT.

VAT if you are self-employed

Pensions and self-employment

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