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How to get started with your electronic VAT returns


Andrew Needham - Expert Author

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Published August 2010

The mandatory electronic filing and paying of VAT returns for VAT periods starting after 31 March 2010 has been introduced for all new businesses and for businesses with a turnover greater that £100,000.  All other businesses, with a turnover of less than £100,000 will have to file electronically from 2012, although there is a proposal to bring this forward to 2011.

HMRC will allow late returns without imposing a penalty if their software breaks down and you cannot submit your return on time.  However, if you have a problem with your software or your service provider breaks down you could still be liable to a penalty.

As a transitional period, businesses will be allowed 3 further paper returns but any subsequent paper returns will attract a penalty.  HMRC is putting in place systems that will allow taxpayers to submit on-line at local VAT offices and most Libraries.  For those who cannot use these methods (lack of a computer, not computer literate or not located anywhere where they could use a computer – no broadband) some form of submission by phone is being considered.   Those who cannot comply are asked to pay an agent to submit the return or enlist the help of a family member. 

For how to register for on-line returns go to:

Before you can submit your VAT Return on-line, you must have registered and enrolled for the VAT online service through the Government gateway. Once you've enrolled, you'll be able to submit your VAT Return straightaway if one is due.

Before you can use VAT on-line services, you'll need to register with HMRC's On-line Services. During the registration process you'll be able to enrol for various services, including VAT Online, which you can use to file a VAT Return online.


To enrol for VAT On-line, you will need the following five pieces of information about your business:

1. your VAT registration number

2. the postcode of your principal place of business

3. your effective date of registration for VAT

4. the final month of the last VAT Return you submitted

5. the 'Box 5' figure from the last VAT Return you submitted

You will be able to find the first three pieces of information on your VAT4 (Certificate of Registration) and the fourth and fifth on the last VAT Return you submitted.


If you have recently registered for VAT and have not yet submitted a return you will need to select N/A for the 'final month of last VAT return submitted' and enter 0 (zero) for the 'Box 5' figure on last VAT Return submitted.

A copy of any VAT Returns you've submitted online since 23 November 2009 will be automatically saved on your VAT Online services account. It will store the details for a period of 15 months after submission.


Once you have submitted your return to HMRC you will get an on-screen unique submission receipt reference number. It's a good idea to save or print a copy of this on-screen confirmation, as you will only receive an email confirmation of receipt if you’ve registered your email address for VAT messages.

If you'd prefer to use a commercial software package to submit your VAT Return you can do so providing you are enrolled for the VAT online services.


Using a commercial product is a quick and easy way of submitting your VAT Return online - you can submit your return almost instantly because the information is sent directly from your accounting software. So there's less chance of making mistakes like typing in a figure incorrectly or putting the wrong figure in the wrong box. Once you've checked your return on screen, all it takes is the click of a button to send it to HMRC.

About the Author

Andrew Needham is a Director of VAT Specialists Limited, headed by Chartered Tax Adviser Andrew Needham who has a degree in Law from UCNW Bangor and is a specialist in indirect taxes.  Andrew has over 20 years experience in VAT having spent 7 years in HM Customs & Excise, firstly as a VAT inspector, then as a departmental trainer, and finally in a headquarters policy unit dealing with the introduction of the EU single market.

VAT Specialists Limited, 31 Bisham Park, Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 1XH.

(E) Andrew Needham BA CTA
(T) 01928 571207
(F) 01928 571202
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-09-06 14:29:43 in Tax Articles

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