New EU Vat changes Can small on-line businesses survive this?

Copied from the Guardian on-line

The below new regulations to be brought in from 1st January in my opinion seriously threaten the ability of small businesses to sell across Europe. Certainly my on-line businesses will now be securely confined to UK sales only.

Also we may see many UK companies currently supplying to France and the rest of Europe pulling the plug on that service

Anyone else foresee problems?

New Regulations

From 1 January 2015, smaller businesses will start feeling the pinch from changes to EU VAT laws. The European Union is on a mission to crack down on big tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Amazon, which are often accused of funneling EU sales through low-VAT Luxembourg. The reaction has come in the form of new VAT regulations, aimed at businesses that sell electronic products and services (digital services) to private individuals within the EU, regardless of the value of the sale.

This means that SMEs in the UK will have to charge and account for VAT in the member state where the digital services are sold – that is 75 different VAT rates in 28 different countries. For example, if a business sells a music streaming service to customers all over Europe, one of whom is in France and the other in the Netherlands, it will have to charge and account for VAT at the relevant rate for each country. This could affect anything from 34,000 to 460,000 SMEs in the UK, so it’s important to know what these new regulations mean in practice and, as an SME, what steps should be taken in relation to these new rules.

What do the new VAT regulations really mean?

What used to be the case was that VAT on such services was charged in the country of the supplier – the new regulations change this and turn it upside down. From January VAT will be payable in the country where digital services are bought. This includes non-physical resources such as download services and ebooks, provided that they are sold to a private individual.

The reason this change will affect SMEs directly is because businesses with turnovers of less than £81,000 a year are exempt from registering for UK VAT. This exemption will now be lost once an SME registers to pay VAT in another EU country and, as a result, UK VAT must also be charged and accounted for future sales. And there is no threshold – even if the sale is for 99p, there is an obligation to charge VAT in the relevant member state and on all subsequent sales in the UK. This will have the impact of increasing costs in the UK, which will have to be passed on to the customer or absorbed by the company, which in turn would lead to reduced profitability.

How to determine where services are supplied

Determining the location in which services are supplied can be a real challenge, particularly if customers use checkout services such as PayPal, where the company may only have an email address to go on. This means that the company will have to ask the customer for more details, potentially making the sale process more difficult.

Storing personal data

When it comes to data storage, your company will be obliged to store personal data such as customers’ addresses and phone numbers, which means that it will have to register under the Data Protection Act and comply with its requirements in relation to data storage. This will increase the administrative burden for SMEs, particularly as audits can stretch back 10 years – which is the next point.

Increase in administration

HMRC has introduced a VAT Mini One Stop Shop (VAT MOSS) in order that companies do not have to register for VAT in every EU country where they make sales, and a single quarterly return can be submitted to cover all the VAT. However, despite this, the changes mean that affected companies face an increased compliance burden, both in terms of maintaining VAT records and complying with data protection regulations – and billing will become more difficult to manage. This can cause real difficulties for smaller companies, who typically have fewer staff and resources.

What can SMEs do?

Despite much lobbying on behalf of SMEs, who will be disproportionately affected by the changes, it seems unlikely that the government will have a change of heart at this late stage. Businesses who supply digital services in Europe face an unappealing choice between losing sales from Europe and therefore remaining VAT exempt in the UK, or having to pay an extra 20% on all earnings in the UK. This decision will most likely depend on the split in sales between Europe and the UK.

Be prepared

Affected businesses will need to audit their systems urgently, to ensure that they can capture the right sort of information to evidence where each customer lives and apply the correct VAT rate. In addition, they will need to decide how they will report and pay the VAT, and how the different VAT rates will affect their pricing and margins.

I would agree, for under 10K it’s probably not worth the hassle but I guess it depends on the number of transactions.

I don’t miss the point at all Brian. Given my background I understand the pros and cons of online retailing very well. There are costs associated with bricks and morter retailing that are not associated with online. Why (and indeed)how could they be the same? So so somebody taking advantage of the reach of online has to include VAT. So what? Plus I don’t really think a company with only 81K turnover is an SME. It’s a micro-enterprise.

I’m also lucky enough to be able to see opportunity in legislation change rather than just the perceived downside. All the problems you see (multiple VAT rates, data storage and protection, audit trails etc.) are opportunities to provide services to online micro-enterprises. Just as they buy access to web design tools and hosting today. Compliance will bring business opportunities, whether you can see it or not.

No Brian I’m not involved in online sales. In fact I’m involved in just jogging along day by day but I can’t understand why you find my comments “bizarre”, maybe you could be more specific? For example maybe you could list your assessment of the pros and cons of online vs traditional bricks and mortar businesses and identify where my comment strayed into the “bizarre”?

I don’t think this is a problem. it is an opportunity for some company or preferably companies to provide a service to SMEs to process their transactions with the appropriate VAT rate. An extension to Paypal perhaps?

Not only that but it will hit those of us using the small companies because we essentially pay for those out of our own pockets, not having been a deductible expense thus far, which will now become more expensive because of the VAT. That will go for many small businesses and AEs. Of course the big concerns the plan was to hit will find a loophole and wriggle out of it anyway leaving the rest of us to pay for their having to move. We lose or we lose all round.