Flat Rate VAT Scheme – A Contractor’s Guide To Financial Advice

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The Flat Rate VAT Scheme is an alternative way for limited companies to work out how much VAT to pay HM Revenue and Customs – a perk you can enjoy as a contractor working outside IR35.

What is the Flat Rate VAT Scheme?

The scheme is an incentive provided by the government to help simplify taxes. This means you can reclaim VAT on purchases that you have been charged on from HMRC.

Using the standard VAT accounting method means that every quarter you will be required to fill in a VAT return form. However, since some contractors are eligible to join the Flat Rate VAT Scheme, you charge a standard rate of 20% on your invoices but pay HMRC a lower rate.

This amount can vary depending on your profession. The flat rates are set by HMRC and vary depending on the industry sector, from 4% to 14.5%. You can view our full category list below.

VAT flat rate scheme changes and what they mean

In April 2017, a new entity was declared, known as the limited cost trader. If a contractor is defined under this status, the VAT bill would instead be 16.5%.

You can use this tool, published on gov.uk, to see if you meet the limited cost trader criteria.

For more information about the changes in 2017, you can consult our guide.

What is a limited cost trader?

Limited cost traders are defined as one whose gross expenditure on relevant goods is either:

  • Less than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover or
  • Greater than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover but less than £1,000 per year

The figure should not include the cost of the following items:

  • Food and drink for the business or its staff
  • Capital expenditure
  • Vehicles and fuel

Important notes about the Flat Rate Scheme

  • If you estimate that your annual turnover excluding VAT will exceed £150,000 in your first year, you shouldn’t join the scheme.
  • If your annual turnover exceeds £230,000 of VAT inclusive revenue in subsequent years, you must stop using the scheme
  • Companies on the Flat Rate Scheme are unable to claim back any VAT on purchased goods and expenses for their business. However, you can reclaim VAT on capital asset purchases over £2,000, for example, a PC.
    Providing all the capital purchases are on the same receipt such as a PC, printer, and scanner, you can claim the VAT back on these items. You cannot, however, buy a PC one month for £1,500 then a printer the next month for £300 and a scanner the month after for £200 and add them together – they must all be on the same receipt.

Like standard VAT, the scheme still requires you to complete a quarterly VAT return form (online only). You will need to charge the standard VAT rate, currently 20% of your invoices, rather than accounting for the VAT on every payment, when you do your quarterly report, you will only pay a single flat rate percentage on your turnover of each quarter.

As the VAT percentage you pay is considerably lower than that of the standard VAT rate (see below table for a full list of the flat rates depending on your profession) you can keep the difference as your profit.

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Fixed rate VAT advantages

  • The ability to earn money from VAT: you can earn extra each year simply out of VAT (the government does this as the FRS is simple for them to manage and you are in effect acting as a tax collector).

  • A reduced amount of paperwork to handle as you are not submitting any of your input costs to HMRC, all you need to do is keep the receipts from your purchases.

  • If you are a new business, using the Flat Rate Scheme in your first year, you receive a further 1% decrease in the overall percentage of tax you pay each quarter.

Flat rate scheme percentages

Category of Business Appropriate Percentage
A A
Accountancy or book-keeping 14.5%
Advertising 11%
Agricultural services 11%
Any other activity not listed elsewhere 12%
Architect, civil and structural engineer or surveyor 14.5%
B B
Boarding or care of animals 12%
Business services that are not listed elsewhere 12%
C C
Catering services including restaurants and takeaways 12.5%
Computer and IT consultancy or data processing 14.5%
Computer repair services 10.5
D D
Dealing with waste or scrap 10.5%
E E
Entertainment or journalism 12.5%
Estate agency or property management services 12%
F F
Farming or agriculture that is not listed elsewhere 6.5%
Film, radio, television or video production 13%
Financial services 13.5%
Forestry or fishing 10.5%
G G
General building or construction services 9.5%
H H
Hairdressing or other beauty treatment services 13%
Hiring or renting goods 9.5%
Hotel or accommodation 10.5%
I I
Investigation or security 12%
L L
Labour-only building or construction services 14.5%
Laundry or dry-cleaning services 12%
Legal services 14.5%
Library, archive, museum or other cultural activity 9.5%
M M
Management consultancy 14%
Manufacturing fabricated metal products 10.5%
Manufacturing food 9%
Manufacturing that is not listed elsewhere 9.5
Manufacturing yarn, textiles or clothing 9%
Membership organisation 8%
Mining or quarrying 10%
P P
Packaging 9%
Photography 11%
Post offices 5%
Printing 8.5%
Publishing 11%
Pubs 6.5%
R R
Real estate activity not listed elsewhere 14%
Repairing personal or household goods 10%
Repairing vehicles 8.5%
Retailing food, confectionary, tobacco, newspapers or children’s clothing 4%
Retailing pharmaceuticals, medical goods, cosmetics or toiletries 8%
Retailing that is not listed elsewhere 7.5%
Retailing vehicles or fuel 6.5%
S S
Secretarial services 13%
Social work 11%
Sport or recreation 8.5%
T T
Transport or storage, including couriers, freight, removals, and taxis 10%
Travel agency 10.5%
V V
Veterinary medicine 11%
W W
Wholesaling agricultural products 8%
Wholesaling food 7.5%
Wholesaling that is not listed elsewhere 8.5%

Flat rate scheme changes and alternatives

The scheme is intended to simplify VAT accounting for small business. Registering for the flat rate VAT scheme means you are not able to reclaim VAT on goods and services, and instead pay VAT at a flat rate percentage of your gross invoice total. Prior to April 2017, contractors could benefit from rates as low as 11%; however, due to what HMRC regarded as widespread abuse of the flat rate scheme, a new category of limited cost trader was introduced with a percentage of 16.5%.

Most contractors fell into this new category of limited cost trader and for this reason, the flat rate VAT scheme may be less valuable to anyone who previously paid a VAT rate lower than 16.5%.

If you are not currently VAT registered but need to be, then you have to look at any business purchases you make, and see what VAT you could claim back and whether this would make you better off than the flat rate scheme. If you are already registered but now fall below the current threshold of £85,000, you may want to think about deregistering altogether.

Your dedicated accountant will be able to advise which route will be the most beneficial to you.

FAQs

What is the Flat Rate VAT Scheme?

The Flat Rate VAT Scheme (FRS) is a government scheme to simplify taxes. You can reclaim a fixed percentage of VAT on capital expenditure, according to your industry. Assuming the business meets the criteria of a limited cost trader, you would charge VAT at 20% of the net invoice value, and then pay VAT at 16.5% of the gross invoice total.

Will using the flat rate scheme take up more of my time?

No, in fact the flat rate scheme was created by HMRC to simplify VAT for small businesses. You should save time. There is no need to separate out the VAT on your purchases and reclaim this. You simply calculate your VAT liability as a flat rate percentage of your gross invoice total. You should note that whilst you are unable to reclaim VAT on your expenses, you can reclaim VAT on capital expenditure over £2,000.

How do I qualify for the scheme?

Your company must be VAT registered, with a VAT taxable turnover of less than £150,000 per annum. You can continue to use the scheme until your VAT taxable turnover reaches £230,000 per annum.

What benefit does using the scheme offer to me?

You will have a reduced administrative burden (you’re only required to keep receipts as proof of purchase, not calculate output tax against input tax), and you’ll also enjoy a further 1% reduction in your first year of using the scheme.

How do I work out what I should be paying?

To calculate what you owe HMRC, simply multiply your VAT inclusive turnover by your flat rate. For example, if you charge a client £3600 (including 20% VAT), and you are a limited cost trader within your first year of trade you will have a flat rate of 15.5%. This means you will pay 15.5% of £3600 = £558 VAT.

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