Value-added tax or value added tax (VAT) is a consumption tax levied in the United Kingdom by the national government. It was introduced in 1973 and is the third largest source of government revenue after income tax and National Insurance. It is administered and collected by HM Revenue and Customs, primarily through the Value Added Tax Act 1994.
VAT is levied on most goods and services provided by registered businesses in the UK and some goods and services imported from outside the European Union.There are complex regulations for goods and services imported from within the EU. The default VAT rate is the standard rate, 20% since 4 January 2011. Some goods and services are subject to VAT at a reduced rate of 5% (such as domestic fuel) or 0% (such as most food and children’s clothing). Others are exempt from VAT or outside the system altogether.
Under EU law, the standard rate of VAT in any EU state cannot be lower than 15%.Each state may have up to two reduced rates of at least 5% for a restricted list of goods and services. The European Council must approve any temporary reduction of VAT in the public interest.
VAT is an indirect tax because the tax is paid to the government by the seller (the business) rather than the person who ultimately bears the economic burden of the tax (the consumer). Opponents of VAT claim it is a regressive tax because the poorest people spend a higher proportion of their disposable income on VAT than the richest people. Those in favour of VAT claim it is progressive as consumers who spend more pay more VAT.
The history of VAT in the European Union until 1993
On 11 April 1967 the first two VAT Directives were adopted, establishing a general, multi-stage but non-cumulative turnover tax to replace all other turnover taxes in the Member States. However, the first two VAT Directives laid down only the general structures of the system and left it to the Member States to determine the coverage of VAT and the rate structure. It was not until 17 May 1977 that the Sixth VAT Directive was adopted which established a uniform VAT coverage.
On 1 January 2007, the Sixth Directive was replaced by the VAT Directive (Directive Number 2006/112/EC). It brings together the various provisions into one piece of legislation, so it gives a clearer overview of EU VAT legislation currently in force. The VAT Directive guarantees that the VAT contributed by each of the Member States to the Community’s own resources can be calculated. It still however, allows Member States many possible exceptions and derogations from the standard VAT coverage. Moreover, it does not set out the rates of VAT to be applied in Member States, only a minimum rate of 15% fixed until 31 December 2010. This means that VAT rates differ widely. Currently, Member States apply a standard rate of between 15% and 25%. They may also apply 1 or 2 reduced rates of at least 5%. There are a number of temporary derogations, e.g. zero rates in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The VAT coverage also still differs from one Member State to another.
VAT and the Single Market -1993 to now
The realisation of the single market in 1993 resulted in the abolition of controls at fiscal frontiers. To achieve this, the Commission proposed moving from the pre-1993 “destination based” system, where VAT is effectively charged at the rate of VAT applicable where the buyer is established, to an “origin based” system, with VAT being charged at the rate in force where the supplier is established. This would have effectively abolished fiscal frontiers within the EU.
This was, however, not acceptable to Member States as rates of VAT were too different and there was no adequate mechanism to redistribute VAT receipts to mirror actual consumption.
Therefore, until the conditions were right the community adopted the Transitional VAT System which maintains different fiscal systems but without frontier controls. The intention is still eventually to have a common system of VAT where VAT is charged by the seller of goods – an origin based VAT system. The transitional system is an origin based system for sales to private persons who can go and buy tax paid anywhere they like in the Union and take the goods home without having to pay VAT again. There are some exceptions to this general rule however (e.g. the purchase of new means of transport and distance selling). For transactions between taxable persons it is still a destination based VAT system.
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