How to apply the VAT cut to flat-rate schemes

aat comment

Tax expert Brian Palmer explains how the recent reduction in VAT will affect those on the flat rate VAT scheme.

In his July 2020 Summer Statement, Rishi Sunak (the Chancellor) promised a ‘reduced rate’ of VAT for those operating in the hospitality and tourism sector.

From 15 July, the UK’s restaurants, pubs, bars, cafés may charge VAT at 5% (reduced rate) on sales of food and non-alcoholic drinks consumed on their premises, as well as on hot food and non-alcoholic drink takeaways from the same outlets.

The reduced rate also applies to hotel and holiday accommodation and admission to many attractions across the UK. It is set to continue until 12 January 2021. When the rate will revert to 20%.

Law of unforeseen consequences

While excellent news for those in the hospitality sector the Law of Unforeseen Circumstances creeps in for those who account for VAT according to Flat Rate Scheme rules.

The Flat Rate Scheme

The VAT Flat Rate Scheme (FRS) is an ‘easy’ way for time-poor small businesses to calculate their VAT without the red tape associated with the standard approach.

Instead of working out the liability at the end of a VAT period as the difference between VAT charged and VAT paid a business just adds up its VAT inclusive sales for the period, applies an HMRC set FRS percentage to the total.

The resulting figure is the amount of VAT due to HMRC.

HMRC sets different FRS percentages depending to the type of business activity.

To reflect the drop in the VAT rate, HMRC published revised hospitality sector FRS percentages:

  • Catering, including restaurants and takeaways, was reduced from 12.5% to 4.5%.
  • Hotel or other accommodation was cut from 10.5% to 0%.
  • Pubs FRS percentage dropped from 6.5% to 1%.

What’s the problem?

Well that’s all seems incredibly straight forward, so where’s the problem you might ask?

Some leading software will readily accept a change in the FRS percentage during a VAT period.  However, in so doing it will apply the new FRS percentage to the VAT inclusive turnover for the entire VAT period and fail to perform a split calculation as required by HMRC.

What can I do?

If you think you might be affected the first thing to do, is to check with your supplier to establish if the software that you are using can perform a split FRS calculation. If it can, provided that you input the rate change information correctly, you should have nothing else to worry about.

Recommendation: always double-check your software’s workings.

If it doesn’t HMRC guidance states:

‘The first calculation should start from day one of your accounting period to the last day of that flat rate [14/7/2020]. The second should start from the date of the new flat-rate [15/7/2020] to the end of your accounting period.’

 This can be done, as follows:

  • Establish the VAT inclusive turnover for the entire VAT period (total A)
  • Perform a second calculation, like the first, but restricted to the period covering the FRS percentage change (total B).
  • Subtract total B from total A to establish the pre-rate-change turnover figure (total C).

The FRS percentage linked to B and C should be applied to their related totals and the results combined to establish the VAT due payable to HMRC for the entire return period.


Taking the example of a cafe, with a VAT period end of 31 July who did not trade during the period of lockdown with the following VAT inclusive trading figures:

Turnover calculation

Total A                   4th July to 31st July                                        £10,500 

Total B                   15th July to 31st July                                       £5,500

Total C                   A-B=C   £10,500 – £5,500 =                          £5,000

Calculation of VAT liability

Total B * Reduced FRS percentage           5,500 * 4.5          £247.40

Total C * Old FRS percentage                      5,000 * 12.5        £625.00

VAT due to HMRC                                                                          £872.40

Different figures

The VAT due payable to HMRC figure that you calculated will, of course, be different to the liability calculated by your software. 

While this will not be such an issue if you file VAT returns via HMRC’s portal.  If you are filing Making Tax Digital compliant software, you will need to adjust your software’s VAT return liability to agree with your off-software calculation before pressing the button to file

Use a spreadsheet

It would be wise to export your software’s source data to a spreadsheet, perform the calculations as described above and then calculate the adjustment required to get your MTD-compliant VAT return figures to agree with you.

Off-software working

In the context of Making Tax Digital for VAT, HMRC recognises that there may be points during the preparation of your VAT Return when calculations will have to be made outside of any software you use to keep the digital records, or there may be a need to enter data into your software from particular sources.

Calculating the adjustments described in this blog is one such occasion. I strongly recommend you keep a copy of your workings for production to HMRC if the information is requested at a later date.

HMRC guidance

In support of the reduce rate change, HMRC has published ‘Revenue and Customs Brief 10 (2020): temporarily reduced rate of VAT for hospitality, holiday accommodation and attractions’

This brief explains the changes in the VAT treatment of supplies of:

  • hospitality
  • hotel and holiday accommodation
  • admission to certain attractions

The Brief, also, provides a link to further guidance and provides an overview of the scope of the reduced rate for each category.

In summary

The reduction in the rate of VAT chargeable by many operating in the hospitality sector is a good news story. You just need to ensure that any software you are relying upon to gets the calculations right is capable of accommodating a mid-period change of FRS percentage.

While that might be irritating, whether you are an employee or a Licenced Accountant your employer or client will always be relying on your skill and judgement to ensure that their accounting affairs are compliant.   This is a great opportunity to showcase your skills.

Brian Palmer , former tax policy adviser for AAT..

Related articles