The flat rate scheme for small businesses was introduced to reduce the administrative burden imposed when operating VAT.
Under the scheme a set percentage is applied to the turnover of the business as a one-off calculation instead of having to identify and record the VAT on each sale and purchase you make.
Who can join?
The scheme is optional and available to businesses with anticipated taxable turnover (excluding VAT) of £150,000 or less in the next 12 months. A business must leave the scheme when income in the last twelve months exceeds £230,000, unless HMRC are satisfied that income will fall below £191,500 in the following year. A business must also leave the scheme if there are reasonable grounds to believe that total income is likely to exceed £230,000 in the next 30 days.
The turnover test applies to your anticipated turnover in the following 12 months. Your turnover may be calculated in any reasonable way but would usually be based on the previous 12 months if you have been registered for VAT for at least a year.
To join the scheme you can apply by post, email or phone and if you are not already registered for VAT you must submit a form VAT1 at the same time.
You may not operate the scheme until you have received notification that your application has been accepted and HMRC will inform you of the date of commencement.
When is the scheme not available?
The flat rate scheme cannot be used if you:
- use the second hand margin scheme or auctioneers’ scheme
- use the tour operators’ margin scheme
- are required to operate the capital goods scheme for certain items.
In addition the scheme cannot be used if, within the previous 12 months, you have:
- ceased to operate the flat rate scheme
- been convicted of an offence connected with VAT
- been assessed with a penalty for conduct involving dishonesty.
The scheme will clearly be inappropriate if you regularly receive VAT repayments.
How the scheme operates
VAT due is calculated by applying a predetermined flat rate percentage to the business turnover of the VAT period. This will include any exempt supplies and it will therefore not generally be beneficial to join the scheme where there are significant exempt supplies.
The percentage rates are determined according to the trade sector of your business and generally range from 4% to 16.5%. The table in the appendix to this factsheet summarises the percentages. In addition there is a further 1% reduction off the normal rates for businesses in their first year of VAT registration. If your business falls into more than one sector it is the main business activity as measured by turnover which counts. This can be advantageous if you have a large percentage rate secondary activity and a modest major percentage trade. You should review the position on each anniversary of joining the scheme and if the main business activity changes or you expect it to change during the following year you should use the appropriate rate for that sector.
Although you pay VAT at the flat rate percentage under the scheme you will still be required to prepare invoices to VAT registered customers showing the normal rate of VAT. This is so that they can reclaim input VAT at the appropriate rate.
Example of the calculation
Cook & Co is a partnership operating a café and renting out a flat. If its results are as follows:
VAT inclusive turnover:
Standard rated catering supplies
Zero rated takeaway foods
Exempt flat rentals
Flat rate 12.5% x £79,000 = £9,875
Normally £70,000 x 20/120 = £11,667 less input tax
During the period 15 July 2020 to 30 September 2021 this calculation is revised to
Flat rate 4.5% x £79,000 = £3,555
And £70,000 x 5/105 (reduced rate) = £3,333 less input tax
Limited cost trader
A 16.5% rate applies for businesses with limited costs, such as many labour-only businesses. Businesses using the FRS, or considering joining the scheme, will need to decide if they are a “limited cost trader”.
A limited cost trader will be defined as one whose VAT inclusive expenditure on goods is either:
- less than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover in a prescribed accounting period
- greater than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover but less than £1,000 per annum if the prescribed accounting period is one year (if it is not one year, the figure is the relevant proportion of £1,000).
Good, for the purposes of this measure, must be used exclusively for the purpose of the business but exclude the following items:
- capital expenditure
- food or drink for consumption by the flat rate business or its employees
- vehicles, vehicle parts and fuel (except where the business is one that carries out transport services – for example a taxi business – and uses its own or a leased vehicle to carry out those services)
- goods for re-sale, or hiring out, unless selling or hiring is the main business activity
- goods to be used as promotional items or gifts.
These exclusions are part of the test to prevent traders buying either low value everyday items or one off purchases in order to inflate their costs beyond 2%.
Treatment of capital assets
The purchase of capital assets costing more than £2,000 (including VAT) may be dealt with outside the scheme. You can claim input VAT on such items on your VAT return in the normal way. Where the input VAT is reclaimed you must account for VAT on a subsequent sale of the asset at the normal rate instead of the flat rate.
Items under the capital goods scheme are excluded from the flat rate scheme.
Records to keep
Under the scheme you must keep a record of your flat rate calculation showing:
- your flat rate turnover
- the flat rate percentage you have used
- the tax calculated as due.
You must still keep a VAT account although if the only VAT to be accounted for is that calculated under the scheme there will only be one entry for each period.
The scheme is designed to reduce administration although it will only be attractive if it does not result in additional VAT liabilities. The only way to establish whether your business will benefit is to carry out a calculation and comparison of the normal rules and the flat rate rules.