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

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There are certain perks you can enjoy as a contractor. One of these is the Flat Rate VAT Scheme, which is an alternative way for limited companies to work out how much VAT to pay to HMRC.

What is the Flat Rate VAT Scheme?

The Flat Rate VAT 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.

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What do the changes on the Flat Rate VAT Scheme 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%.

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 VAT 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 Flat Rate 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 standard rates depending on your profession) you can keep the difference as your profit.

What are the advantages of using the Flat Rate Scheme?

  • The ability to earn money from VAT: you can earn thousands of pounds 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.

Percentage Rates for the Flat Rate VAT Scheme

Category of businessAppropriate percentage
Accountancy or book-keeping14.5
Advertising11
Agricultural services11
Any other activity not listed elsewhere12
Architect, civil and structural engineer or surveyor14.5
Boarding or care of animals12
Business services that are not listed elsewhere12
Catering services including restaurants and takeaways12.5
Computer and IT consultancy or data processing14.5
Computer repair services10.5
Dealing with waste or scrap10.5
Entertainment or journalism12.5
Estate agency or property management services12
Farming or agriculture that is not listed elsewhere6.5
Film, radio, television or video production13
Financial services13.5
Forestry or fishing10.5
General building or construction services9.5
Hairdressing or other beauty treatment services13
Hiring or renting goods9.5
Hotel or accommodation10.5
Investigation or security12
Labour-only building or construction services14.5
Laundry or dry-cleaning services12
Legal services14.5
Library, archive, museum or other cultural activity9.5
Management consultancy14
Manufacturing fabricated metal products10.5
Manufacturing food9
Manufacturing that is not listed elsewhere9.5
Manufacturing yarn, textiles or clothing9
Membership organisation8
Mining or quarrying10
Packaging9
Photography11
Post offices5
Printing8.5
Publishing11
Pubs6.5
Real estate activity not listed elsewhere14
Repairing personal or household goods10
Repairing vehicles8.5
Retailing food, confectionary, tobacco, newspapers or children’s clothing4
Retailing pharmaceuticals, medical goods, cosmetics or toiletries8
Retailing that is not listed elsewhere7.5
Retailing vehicles or fuel6.5
Secretarial services13
Social work11
Sport or recreation8.5
Transport or storage, including couriers, freight, removals, and taxis10
Travel agency10.5
Veterinary medicine11
Wholesaling agricultural products8
Wholesaling food7.5
Wholesaling that is not listed elsewhere8.5

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