Your Making Tax Digital for VAT questions answered (even the difficult ones)

Since Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT started in April, time's running out to get to grips with your new responsibilities. To help you out, we’ve answered the most common questions that accountants have asked us over the last few months in this handy guide. If you're not an accountant but want to know more, take a look at our collection of MTD resources for small businesses.

Click through to your most pressing question or read on to take in the full list:

  1. What is MTD for VAT?
  2. When did MTD for VAT begin?
  3. Is FreeAgent ready for MTD?
  4. How is MTD VAT filing different in FreeAgent?
  5. What should I be doing to prepare?
  6. Who can file the return?
  7. Are the deadlines for VAT return submissions still the same?
  8. What about VAT special schemes?
  9. What information needs to be submitted?
  10. What information needs to be stored?
  11. What about VAT registered businesses with VATable sales below the threshold?
  12. What’s next on the MTD agenda?

1. What is MTD for VAT?

MTD for VAT is the first major phase in the Making Tax Digital initiative, the government’s plan to make tax administration more effective, more efficient and easier for taxpayers through the introduction of a fully digital tax system. VAT-registered businesses with VATable sales above the VAT threshold are required to digitally record their bookkeeping and submit VAT returns using MTD-compatible accounting software. All VAT returns have to be filed through HMRC’s new MTD APIs (the interfaces that enable accounting systems to communicate with HMRC’s systems) instead of through the existing portal.

2. When did MTD for VAT begin?

Businesses with VATable turnover in excess of the VAT threshold of £85,000 had to make their first MTD-compatible VAT submission for the first VAT period that started on or after 1st April 2019.

The scope of Making Tax Digital for VAT will expand in 2022. VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover below £85,000 will need to follow Making Tax Digital rules for their first VAT return starting on or after April 2022.

Find out more on HMRC’s website.

Switching to MTD-compatible software

You should be aware that if a business’s accounting period doesn’t match the dates of the tax year, your client may be better off making the switch to compatible software to avoid the complication of switching accounting software part-way through an accounting year.

3. Is FreeAgent ready for MTD?

Of course! FreeAgent is MTD-compatible and HMRC lists FreeAgent as one of the software suppliers supporting Making Tax Digital for VAT. We’re confident that FreeAgent will continue to be the best accounting software for your small business clients in the MTD era.

We’ve had digital VAT filing capabilities for the best part of a decade and our experienced team of engineers – who are already intimately acquainted with the VAT process – are working closely with HMRC to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Our support team are trained specifically on MTD for VAT to ensure that they can provide you with the best advice.

4. How is MTD VAT filing different in FreeAgent?

Filing your clients’ VAT returns through our software is as simple as ever and once you’ve made your first MTD submission the process remains largely the same. However, two-way communication with HMRC’s systems improves the overall experience.

Through the use of oAuth technology (which allows a user to authorise a third party to access their account information while keeping their password hidden and their data secure) you can connect your FreeAgent account to HMRC. This will continue to allow VAT return filing directly from the app with the touch of a button and allow client data that HMRC holds – such as information on outstanding liabilities and payments the business has made towards VAT – to be pulled into FreeAgent.

Your first MTD VAT submission

During your first MTD VAT submission from FreeAgent you’ll be prompted to:

  • click through to the HMRC website
  • enter your credentials in order to receive a token which enables your data to pass securely between the two systems (this is automated – entering your credentials will automatically assign you a token)
  • return to FreeAgent where the token will be stored for 18 months

This process means that your account dashboard will be authorised to file MTD VAT returns. If you switch to a client linked to your dashboard you’ll be able to file on their behalf, as long as they’ve authorised you to do so.

After this initial step, VAT filing in FreeAgent will involve the familiar process of checking the details, ticking a confirmation box and clicking the “submit” button.

5. What should I be doing to prepare?

We’re working hard to ensure that the switch to MTD is as painless as possible for your practice, but there are a few things that you need to do:

  1. Determine which clients fall under the scope of MTD for VAT – if you’re using FreeAgent, you can use our dashboard reporting functionality to run turnover reports across your whole client base.
  2. Ensure all clients who fall under the scope of MTD for VAT are using MTD-compatible software, like FreeAgent – our client segmentation spreadsheet for MTD is perfect for this task.
  3. Communicate with your affected clients about their new obligations - you can use the MTD email templates in our preparation guide.
  4. Set up an agent services account with HMRC.
  5. Add all clients who fall under the scope of MTD for VAT to your agent services account and subscribe them to MTD. You should only take this final step when you are ready to file through MTD – as soon as you subscribe a client, HMRC will expect the next return to be MTD-compatible.

The agent services account in steps three and four is different to your current Government Gateway account and is the account you’ll use to access the majority of HMRC online services when MTD rolls out.

In most cases, in order to subscribe a client to MTD with an agent services account you’ll need your client’s VAT Registration Number (VRN), Company Registration Number (CRN) and National Insurance Number (NINO).

When MTD comes in, your affected clients will have to confirm that they can be added to your account via their own HMRC online account. It’s a good idea to chase up your clients and make sure that they have valid Government Gateway credentials ahead of time to save you chasing them up at the last minute!

Get more practical tips and resources in our MTD for VAT practice preparation guide →

6. Who can file the return?

Both you – the agent – and your clients will be able to submit VAT returns. If your client has already authorised you to file their VAT returns, their authorisation will be passed on to your agent services account. In order to file VAT returns for new clients, or clients who have not yet authorised you to do so, you’ll have to seek their authorisation.

When you have your agent services account set up you’ll be able to send affected clients an invitation to authorise you. This process might take a while, especially if you have a lot of clients to seek authorisation from, so make sure you communicate this step well ahead of time.

Once your client authorises you to submit their returns, your existing working relationship for VAT can continue in the same way, whether your client inputs the data for you to review and file or they give you raw data to input.

7. Are the deadlines for VAT submissions still the same?

Yes, after the MTD for VAT deadline the payment deadlines and the frequency with which businesses have to file VAT returns will be the same as they are right now. This applies to monthly, quarterly and annual VAT return schemes.

You will continue to make error corrections on VAT returns on the following quarter’s VAT return or by writing to HMRC.

Soft landing period extension

HMRC has advised that it will be lenient with penalties during an initial "soft landing period" if businesses have made sufficient efforts to comply with MTD for VAT.

In response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, all businesses now have until their first VAT period starting on or after 1 April 2021 to put digital links in place. This allows businesses more time to put digital links between all parts of their functional compatible software in place.

8. What about VAT special schemes?

Eligibility for VAT special schemes, such as the Flat Rate Scheme, will remain the same. Businesses eligible to submit annual VAT returns will still be able to do so under MTD.

9. What information needs to be submitted?

While businesses will need to keep a record of all their transactions in MTD-compatible software, HMRC only requires summary data in each VAT submission. This takes the form of the familiar nine boxes on the VAT return:

  1. VAT due on sales and other outputs
  2. VAT due on acquisitions from other EC member states
  3. Total VAT due (the sum of boxes 1 and 2)
  4. VAT reclaimed on purchases and other inputs (including acquisitions from the EC)
  5. Net VAT to be paid to Customs or reclaimed by you (Difference between boxes 3 and 4)
  6. Total value of sales and all other outputs excluding any VAT
  7. Total value of purchases and all other inputs excluding any VAT
  8. Total value of all supplies of goods and related costs, excluding any VAT, to other EC member states
  9. Total value of acquisitions of goods and related costs, excluding any VAT, from other EC member states

10. What information needs to be stored?

Remember that the above is the information that has to be submitted for VAT; under MTD your clients will also be required to store certain information digitally. This should include, for each supply:

  • the time of supply (tax point)
  • the value of the supply (net excluding VAT)
  • the rate of VAT charged

Records should also include your clients’ business name, business address, VAT registration number and details of any VAT accounting schemes they use. All this information is automatically stored and updated in FreeAgent.

If you need to make adjustments to your VAT figures (for example, if your client is partially exempt from VAT) the calculations and supplementary data that get you to your final figures don’t have to be stored.

There is no additional information you or your clients need to store or submit for MTD for VAT; however, this information now needs to be stored digitally.

11. What about VAT-registered businesses with VATable sales below the threshold?

Businesses with VATable sales below the VAT threshold can voluntarily join MTD for VAT if they wish but were not mandated to do so on 1st April 2019.

If VATable sales for a business that’s subscribed to MTD for VAT falls below the VAT registration threshold, the business must continue to follow the rules for MTD until it deregisters for VAT.

If turnover for a business subscribed to MTD for VAT falls below the VAT registration threshold, the business must continue to follow the rules for MTD until it deregisters for VAT.

At the end of each month you should continue to check each client’s VATable sales for the previous 12 months to check if it exceeds the threshold. If it does, MTD for VAT applies from the first day of the following month.

12. What’s next on the MTD agenda?

Further details will emerge as the MTD roll out progresses and we’ll be sure to keep you updated. Check out our Making Tax Digital guides and resources for more information.

Disclaimer: The content included in this guide is based on our understanding of tax law at the time of publication. It may be subject to change and may not be applicable to your circumstances, so should not be relied upon. You are responsible for complying with tax law and should seek independent advice if you require further information about the content included in this guide. If you don't have an accountant, take a look at our directory to find a FreeAgent Practice Partner based in your local area.

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