There’s really no two ways about it – registering for VAT almost always means less profit for you at the end of the day.
As covered in that guide, there is really one main exception to this rule, and that’s if you sell zero rated goods. Zero rated goods have a VAT rate of 0% so in this case you’d actually be better off registering for VAT from day one as it wouldn’t affect your sale price but you would still be able to reclaim VAT on all business expenses (more on that later).
The products that qualify for 0% VAT or the reduced rate (usually 5%) are very rare, so it’s highly unlikely that this will apply to you.
You can take a look at this page for a full list of reduced or zero rated goods and services:
Some of the more common products that qualify for 0% VAT include:
- Leaflets / Flyers
- Children’s Clothing
- Children’s Shoes
- Motorcycle Helmets
So if you happen to sell one the above products, then you should definitely look in to registering for VAT, if not – then hold off for as long as you can!
Let me say this again, so that it’s 100% clear:
You will (almost always) be worse off if registered for VAT!!!
Strangely there is actually a lot of confusion about this point, especially online, and I think this stems mainly from a misunderstanding of the figures and in particular – reclaiming VAT on business expenses. I don’t want to spend too long on this aspect of VAT registration, as I have covered it previously, but let’s do a very quick example calculation:
Minalto’s Muscle Machines
Let’s say I have a business selling workout equipment and gym gear.
Turnover is £75,000 a year and gross margins are 60%, which means a mark-up of 150% (100-200%+ is what I aim for when importing from China).
So if I’m NOT VAT registered, the calculations are simple – I pay 20% VAT on the total value of the goods I import, which is £25,000 a year.
20% of £25,000 = £5,000 VAT paid per year.
Now let’s see how it works out if I am registered for VAT:
So the first difference is that the VAT I pay on the import value of my goods is reclaimable, so I’ve saved £5,000 already!
Plus I can also reclaim VAT on all of my business expenses, and this includes:
- eBay Fees
- Postage (some postage is VAT exempt though, such as 1st and 2nd class stamps)
Using our £75,000 annual turnover, let’s be generous and assume £15,000 in VAT reclaimable business expenses.
And as Minalto’s Muscle Machines is VAT registered, I can reclaim £2,500 back from that £15,000.
But now we’re on to the last part – the VAT I have to charge on my sale price.
From my £75,000 in annual turnover, £12,500 of that was VAT.
Alright now that I’ve walked you through the figures so that you can see how I’ve calculated everything, let’s take a look at the final result:
NOT Registered for VAT:
£75,000 (Turnover) - £30,000 (Landed Cost of Products (£25,000 x 1.2)) - £15,000 (Other Business Expenses) = £30,000 (Annual Profit)
Registered for VAT:
- £12,500 (VAT on Sales
) – £25,000 (Landed Cost of Products (£30,000 – Reclaimed VAT))
- £12,500 (Other Business Expenses (£15,000 – Reclaimed VAT))
= £25,000 (Annual Profit)
And there you have it!
The result is that registering for VAT would reduce your profit for the year by £5,000 or 17%!!!
I hope this finally answers the age old question about reclaiming VAT on purchases…
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, and you hopefully now understand what I meant when I said you are nearly always worse off when registering for VAT, let’s take a look at some ways you can put off registering, even if you pass the threshold!
At the moment the VAT threshold is £82,000, so if you reach that turnover in a 12 month period then you have to register for VAT (you have 30 days from the date you pass the threshold before it’s considered late registration).
How to Hold Off Registering for VAT?
1. Apply for an Exception
If your VAT taxable turnover goes over the threshold temporarily, then you can write to HMRC and request an exception. You will need to provide evidence and explain why you believe your VAT taxable turnover will be less than £80,000 in the next 12 months.
Be warned that HMRC won’t just hand out an exception to anyone who asks for it. Not at all! You need a genuine reason for a one-off spike in sales… for example you sell tennis rackets and had a big spike in sales because Andy Murray won Wimbledon or you had a large one-off order from an overseas store etc.
And seasonal variation is not considered grounds for an exception, so don’t write saying you had a spike because it was Christmas, as Christmas happens every year! Only something that you don’t reasonably expect to be repeated.
And now on to our second way to postpone registering for VAT…
2. Reduce Your Sales on Purpose
Before you ask, no I haven’t gone mad! And yes, in certain occasions I would actually advise a slight deflation of sales if it means staying under the VAT threshold. Of course that doesn’t mean when you reach £81,999 you should refuse any more business, no of course not! Merely that when you’re approaching the threshold you should take a close look at your business and re-evaluate your product lines – possibly cutting low margin products (as they won’t be much use when VAT is factored in anyway).
I have one last method to keep your business from being VAT registered, and even though it’s actually the most effective, I considered not including it in this blog post – simply because it can be misunderstood and then cause further problems.
What am I talking about?
3. Registering Multiple Businesses
The VAT threshold applies to individual businesses, not business owners. So if I have one business doing £60,000 in sales and another doing £55,000 in sales (a total of £115,000) I don’t have to register either for VAT.
When/if to register as a Ltd company is a whole other question of course, and is something that I’ve covered at length previously: Tax and Business Registration for eBay Sellers
I won’t give any specific advice here (PLEASE DON’T ASK IN COMMENTS ABOUT THIS) as what’s best depends entirely on your individual business and when you’re at the point that you start thinking about VAT registration and Limited companies, then you really need to hire a professional accountant.
They’ll be able to take a look at your business(es) and let you know what can and can’t be separated. Remember, HMRC have some specific rules on what they consider to be one business entity and it’s more complicated than simply having two different eBay accounts!
But if you can legally register multiple entities for your different businesses, then that’s really the best way to hold off the dreaded VAT registration for as long as possible.
So while that’s all well and good, what do you do when the time comes and you have no choice but to register for VAT? Well don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.
Registering for VAT
We’ve already gone over when you need to register for VAT – which is as soon as you go over the threshold, currently £82,000 (but it rises every year), so let’s now look at the how.
How to Register for VAT?
The easiest way is to register online, as this way you’ll automatically be provided with a VAT online account/Government Gateway Account, which you need to submit your VAT returns to HMRC.
You can also register via an agent (there are hundreds of them online). If you register this way you will need to sign up for a VAT online account when you receive your VAT number from HMRC.
There are also some circumstances where you can’t register online, and instead have to do so by post. This includes if:
- you want to apply for a ‘registration exception’
- you’re an EU business ‘distance selling’ to the UK
- you import (‘acquire’) goods from another EU country
- you’re joining the Agricultural Flat Rate Scheme
- you’re registering the divisions or business units of a body corporate under separate VAT numbers
- you’re disposing of assets on which 8th or 13th Directive refunds have been claimed
Regardless of whether you apply online, via an agent, or by post yourself – you should receive your VAT registration within 14 working days, though I have seen it take up to a month on some occasions.
Do I Need An Accountant?
This is a question I get asked a lot and for sole traders who are just starting out, my answer is no, as they can usually get by with some simple software: Accounting for eBay Sellers Simplified
However, I personally outsource all of my accounting to a professional company.
After all, I always talk about outsourcing different aspects of your business to a professional who is more knowledgeable and will do a better job than you, and this couldn’t be more true than with accounting.
Being VAT registered means submitting a VAT Return to HMRC every 3 months, known as your “accounting period” and this needs to include information on:
- your total sales and purchases
- the amount of VAT you owe
- the amount of VAT you can reclaim
- what your VAT refund from HMRC is
All your figures have to be calculated correctly and precisely – HMRC won’t simply accept estimates.
This isn’t the simple and easy end of year assessment that you need to fill in if you’re a sole trader! It is much more complicated. So unless you want to trade in your business for an accountancy course, I strongly suggest you hire a professional accountant to take care of all of this for you. They will have the expertise and working knowledge to advise you and make sure everything is done correctly.
As with a lot of things in business, a good accountant is an investment rather than a cost!
And to be blunt, if you can’t afford to hire an accountant when you’re at £80,000+ turnover, then something is very wrong and your business will most likely fail anyway.
And this brings me nicely on to my final points for today’s post…
How to Remain Competitive After Becoming VAT Registered?
It’s more important than ever to practice all the things I teach on this blog and in Easy Auction Business course once you’re registered for VAT. After all, you are now competing against sellers who aren’t registered and are therefore at an advantage to you.
And that means you need to focus on being a smart seller:
Focus on your brand!
Your brand and marketing is, as always, incredibly important as it’s your brand, listings, images, and descriptions that will allow you to charge higher prices and maintain your margins.
Focus on high margin products!
As I briefly mentioned earlier, this is also a very good time to re-evaluate your product line and to cut any products that don’t make the grade, margin-wise. Personally I aim for 100-200% ROI as a minimum when importing from China. Low margin sellers simply won’t be able to survive once they’re registered for VAT.
Focus on your costs!
If you’re selling £80,000+ a year, then you should be planning your stock and getting the best prices possible. Don’t make stupid mistakes with importing, such as using the wrong shipping method, ordering in too small quantities, ordering from a bad supplier etc.
£80,000 and above is actually a fairly large turnover for a sole trader/small eBay business so use that to your advantage.
Create multiple selling avenues!
This really goes without saying, but I’m going to mention it anyway – you cannot rely on a single selling platform for your business! Please don’t risk £80,000 a year on eBay alone. Expand to Amazon, offline sales, and most importantly – create your own online store.
This is the best way to take advantage of your growing economies of scale, to expand your marketplace and increase sales, and to maintain your margins.
I won’t talk any more about this, as these are hopefully all points that you’re well aware of by now. Just remember that it’s even more important that you sell smart now than before, and please don’t get sucked in to the lowest price battle, as I’ve seen that happen to a few business owners who are worried about losing profits/increasing prices, and it never ends well.
Well that pretty much brings us to the end of today’s post.
I hope you’ve found this useful, and it’s helped to allay some fears about VAT registration!
Although it’s not something that you want to do voluntarily, mandatory VAT registration should be viewed as a success, and not something to dread. After all, you’ve reached £82,000 in turnover so well done!
Now on to the next milestone of £100,000 and beyond! 🙂
Until next time,