Brexit – the VAT implications

The trade debate in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote was dominated by customs and tariff issues, and little attention was paid to VAT. However, it has become clear in the interim that VAT has the potential to create real difficulties for Irish companies in terms of cash flow, an increased administrative burden, and a potential loss of competitiveness.

New Language and Terminology

Among the first things we are going to have to change is the language and terminology we use, according to Crona Clohisey, Tax and Public Policy Manager with Chartered Accountants Ireland. “At the moment, VAT is seen as a European tax,” she explains. “It is different to corporation or income taxes where member states set their own rules. There can be slight differences for certain VAT rules but by and large they are the same across the EU.”

All the rules are the same in terms of aspects such as where VAT arises, who is the taxable person, and so on. “Makes it easy to trade and carry out transactions across Europe,” Clohisey adds.


Trading with the UK

“If the UK leaves, they will have the freedom to make and implement their own rules,” she continues. “They have indicated they are going to keep their current VAT system and won’t deviate too much. But in saying that, when companies import from within the EU that’s treated as an intra-community acquisition. Imports and exports only apply for trade with countries outside the EU. We are going to have to change the language and terminology we use for trade with the UK for example.”

At present, when the EU makes changes to the VAT rules it issues a Directive and every country has to implement that by transposing it into national law. The rates of VAT and the thresholds for registration may vary slightly from country to country but the rules are essentially the same. “But the UK can in reality do whatever they want after they leave,” Clohisey notes.


Impact of VAT on Cash Flow

The system, as it operates at present, is very straightforward. When a company registered for VAT in Ireland purchases a product from the UK, no UK VAT is charged. The Irish company self-accounts for VAT using what is known as a reverse charge mechanism. The Irish VAT charge is applied in their next VAT return and a simultaneous credit is taken for it as if a reclaim had been made.

That will change following Brexit, however. Imports from the UK will attract an Irish VAT charge at the time of import and this VAT will have to be paid immediately rather than accounted for at the time of the next VAT return.  “When the UK becomes a third country, UK exporters to Ireland won’t charge VAT. Once the goods from the UK arrive in Ireland, the Irish VAT rate, usually 23%, is applied and must be paid immediately by the importer along with any customs duties. The Irish importing firm can deduct this from their VAT payable on their next VAT return, but that presents cash flow issues. If a company is making VAT returns every two months, it can be up to 10 weeks before they reclaim the VAT already paid on import.”

That will not apply to every company, however. “A lot of established traders have a deferred payment account with Revenue and may be able to postpone the payment of upfront import VAT,” Clohisey notes. “Revenue recognises these companies as reliable trusted traders. But that’s not really applicable to smaller companies who may not have a deferred payment account, as you have to through quite a rigorous process to get this.”


VAT Issue for Online Selling

Online sales to consumers will also be affected. “This is something that is going to change a lot,” Clohisey points out. “When an Irish consumer buys online from a UK entity at the moment there is no customs and VAT is generally contained within the advertised price.  But if the same consumer buys from Australia or the US and the value of the goods purchased exceeds €22, Irish VAT will apply, and customs duty may also be payable. When the mail is delivered to your door you are asked to pay the outstanding VAT and customs duty.”

If those same rules apply to goods from the UK, after Brexit, this will mean VAT and customs might have to be paid at the front door by Irish consumers.

“Brexit has thrown up a lot of things we wouldn’t have thought of before. UK citizens will be entitled to claim VAT back on their shopping in the Republic of Ireland in the same way that American citizens are. This could have significant implications for cross-border shopping,” says Clohisey.


Seek Professional Advice

Another slight headache relates to VAT reclaims on business expenses incurred in another EU member state. “When VAT is incurred in another EU country, a company can claim it back through their local VAT authority,” Clohisey explains. “Once the UK leaves, it will no longer be covered by the EU VAT Refund Mechanism and companies will have to go to each member state individually to reclaim any EU VAT incurred. That’s one more thing to think about. Companies should sit down with their accountants to discuss the VAT issues that Brexit will bring as VAT rules can be confusing at times. Most companies probably have their VAT systems set up very well, and now they may have to alter them to deal with a whole new set of rules. The sooner they get professional advice the better.”

Understand the impact of VAT and other factors on your working capital through the Brexit: Act On Initiative.

Key considerations before processing customs declarations

Managing customs procedures in a post-Brexit world

For a huge number of Irish companies, Brexit means a first encounter with customs procedures, or if not an entirely new experience, an unfamiliar one to say the least. Two figures give some idea of the scale of the issue.

At present, some 1.6 million customs declarations are made to Revenue each year. Revenue expects this figure to rise to more than 20 million following Brexit.

This massive increase will pose difficulties not just for importers and exporters but will put pressure on the logistics sector, customs agents, and the ports, which are already working at capacity. Faced with this situation, many Irish companies will have little option but to attempt to deal with the customs processes themselves.


Handling customs procedures in-house

And this will entail a rather steep learning curve. “There is a general lack of knowledge of the customs process,” says Derek Dunne, director of customs formalities and compliance specialist at Manifests Ireland. “We have been spoiled since the establishment of the Single Market in 1992 when didn’t have to make customs declarations for trade with other EU countries. A whole new generation of firms grew up with the advantage of the Single Market.”

“The other problem is that where the knowledge does exist in the logistics industry and customs brokers, the capacity simply doesn’t exist to deal with the anticipated increase in the volume of declarations,” he adds. “All the customs brokers are exceptionally busy already and they are not really able to take a chance on bringing new people in and training them up. SMEs can’t depend on brokers and logistics partners. As good and efficient as they are, they just don’t have the capacity.”

Taking control of the process themselves could be the way to go for many SMEs, he advises. He explains that this may well be the best course of action even if the company can find an external partner to handle the work. “If a broker or logistics company is already looking after 27,000 different products for a lot of other clients, they may find it quite difficult to pay adequate attention to a few products for an SME. In these cases, the SME may be more comfortable handling it themselves.”


EORI number

The procedures are very clear for companies who wish to make declarations directly to Revenue. “They have to know who you are, what you are importing or exporting, and you have to be able to make the declarations electronically,” Dunne explains. “This means companies need an EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification) number. This is a European Union registration and identification number for businesses which undertake the import or export of goods in or out of the EU. You can register for a number through Revenue’s EORI online registration service.”


Online customs declarations

Making declarations online is known as Direct Trader Input (DTI) and requires importers, exporters or their agents to have dedicated software making electronic declarations to the Automated Entry Processing system (AEP). “You also need to register with Revenue and get a digital certificate from them to make declarations to the system,” says Dunne.

Fortunately, there is a range of software products on the market to handle electronic declarations. “There are around half a dozen providers out there and it’s a bit like mobile phone offers: they all have different features and benefits, so it is best to weigh them up to see which package best suits the needs of an individual firm. Many of them also have the ability to integrate and interact with existing software systems such as ERP and management information and financial systems. They can export and import data to them – that’s an important thing to check.”

The software will make the process quite straightforward for the majority of firms. “Most companies will be importing or exporting the same products time and again,” he says. “You need to spend time setting up the system and entering the information, such as commodity codes. The software will make life much easier for that. The packages allow you to create templates which can be replicated time and again. All you need then is the information on when and where and how it’s moving. You might need the assistance of a customs expert when setting it up, but most firms should be able to manage it quite well.”


Customs declarations – outsource or complete internally?

He believes the decision on whether to outsource customs procedures should be based on a solid business case. “It’s quite a simple calculation really”, he says. “While the software providers have different pricing schemes it usually works out that you shouldn’t pay more than €7 to €8 per declaration when using their packages. On the other hand, you’ll pay €50 to €60 when using a broker.”

This may sound like a compelling case for carrying it out internally but that isn’t necessarily so. Dunne explains that a company with very small volumes of declarations may find the expense of training staff and the additional administrative burden mean that outsourcing is the better option.

“If you just deal in one or two products quite often you will get to know the processes involved quite quickly and it will be better to do it in-house”, he adds. “But with small volumes less often it is probably better to try to retain a broker. Also, if you are dealing in unusual products it could be hard to track down their commodity codes so it might be best to have an expert do that. In the end, it’s a fairly straightforward business decision based on available resources and the volume of declarations involved.”


Working with a broker

For those who see outsourcing as a necessity he says finding a broker will be the issue. “Revenue estimates that there are about 330 brokers in Ireland,” he notes. “These range from large logistics companies to very small brokers. There is no centralised database. You need to talk to them, assess their capacity to take on your business, and their commitment to your company. That’s really the way to go if you want to outsource.”


Preparing to do customs processes in-house

For those companies which wish to handle the process internally or haven’t decided yet, Dunne says training is key. For companies interested in building the capability internally, there are many customs training courses available to give an overview of new customs procedures and train staff how to fill in customs documentation.

Learn more about the dedicated supports to help Irish businesses build their customs capabilities:

Enterprise Ireland’s online Customs Insights course is a first step for businesses that wish to process customs declarations in-house.

Customs: Classifying your goods post Brexit

A question of classification

When is a drone not a drone? When it’s a camera, a toy or even a light aircraft. This is just one example of how a product classification for customs purposes can change depending on its characteristics. In this case, it depends on its intended use, whether the item is fitted with a camera or not, and its size and range.

This matters because there is duty payable on some of these items and not on others. For example, drones of a low weight and speed with a limited range may be deemed to be toys. Toy drones if made from plastic attract customs duty of 4.7% when imported from many countries outside of the EU and if made from other materials are free from customs duty. No customs duty is payable on drones without a camera that are deemed to be civil aircraft regardless of the country of origin.


How will product origin determine the duty rates?

The questions of product origin, composition and size have had little relevance for the great majority of Irish companies up until now. That’s about to change with Brexit, however, as the origin of the products will determine the duty rates. Products purchased and consigned from the UK may not originate in the UK and may be liable to Anti-Dumping duty in addition to the customs duty, VAT and possibly excise duty. Ireland imports almost €20 billion worth of products from the UK every year and following Brexit it will have third country status.

This means Irish companies importing from UK suppliers or exporting to UK customers should start the process of finding the customs classification code for all products involved, now, in order to be fully prepared for trading with the UK after the transition period ends.


Next steps to getting your codes

The first port of call is the Classification page on the Revenue website. This offers a brief explanation of the customs classification system and a link to the EU TARIC site which companies can use to find the eight-digit code they need for exporting and the ten-digit code for importing products.

The first component of the system is the Harmonised System (HS) developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO) comprising about 5,000 different commodity groups, organised in a hierarchical structure by broad section headings. These are subdivided into chapters, which give the first two digits of the code, headings and subheadings which each give a further two digits. A further EU subheading brings the code up to eight digits for export. A TARIC subheading brings the code to ten digits for imports.

The home page of the TARIC site includes various search functions which allows searches under a range of headings. For those unsure of how to use the TARIC system there is a helpful video tutorial available below.

Make sure you get it right

Misclassification of products can be very costly and lead to significant delays. Any delays can be catastrophic where short shelf life products are concerned. Companies with difficulty in finding the exact product classification code can call the Revenue Tariff Classification Unit in Nenagh (Telephone: 00353 1 7383676, 1890 62 63 64) for guidance.

In preparation for your call with Revenue you should consider the following questions in advance;

  1. What the Product is
  2. What the Product looks like – size, colour, packaging etc
  3. What the product does or what it is used for
  4. What the Product is made of
  5. How the Product is manufactured
  6. Any other defining characteristics

Where uncertainty in relation to the classification code arises, a company can request Binding Tariff Information (BTI) from Revenue. This is a legally binding code, but it can take up to 120 days for one to be issued, so it may be best to first seek advice from a customs agent or other expert.

While the tariffs payable on UK imports have not been finalised as yet, the UK government has announced a new UK Global Tariff that will replace the current EU common external tariff from the 1st of January 2021. Firms exporting goods to the UK will be subject to potential tariffs under this new regime in the event that no future trading agreement is in place by the end of the transition period. To check what tariffs will apply under this new system please see the UK Global Tariff website.


If you are interested in learning more about customs processes and procedures, register for the full Customs Insights Course.