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How accountants can survive the first few weeks after Brexit

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Like a closing down sale at a pound shop, Brexit keeps threatening to happen, but seemingly never does. The latest date we have is the 31st October, a date that has always been synonymous with another scary fixture. However, the tales around the campfire on Hallowe’en night seem positively tame to the scare stories and terrifying reports penned by experts, all pointing to disaster should leave the European Union without a deal. 

Leaving on the 31st October 2019 without a deal or a period of transition is an increasingly real threat, meaning that the UK will also exit the Customs Union and the VAT taxation system. Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement failed to make it past parliament, and Boris Johnson’s tweaks have not been received well by the EU at the time of writing this article – many suspect he is running down the clock, which could lead to all manner of legal complications. 

Be ready, be prepared

It is now vital to prepare your business for the worst-case scenario, as it’s looking likely. In the event of a no-deal Brexit at 11pm on the 31st October 2019, new trading and indirect tax rules will apply with immediate effect. 

All goods crossing the border will become subject to import VAT for the first time, both ways. Tariff duties and custom declarations will need to be considered for all imports and exports after 11pm on the 31st, causing potential chaos at the borders, but more pressingly, requiring action from businesses right now in order to attempt to lessen the damage and facilitate as smooth a transition as possible. 

We have curated a list of the most important measures that business owners need to be putting into action, in order to limit the damage caused by the likely customs and VAT shakeup. There will be longer term issues that will need to be addressed, these include the considerations about your licensing agreements and how all parties might be affected, your contracts with both customers and suppliers and what will need to be updated, added or erased.

Currently though, we are focusing on the short-term emergency strategies that you can implement to protect your business as best you can in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The plan is meant for the weeks following the break, we would strongly advise that you also begin making medium and longer-term plans for the weeks and months that follow this initial period.

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Customs: A toolkit for damage limitation

Your business may need to get EORI numbers for both the UK and the EU

If your company is based in the EU and wants to continue importing goods into UK ports, you’ll need to register with HMRC for a UK Economic Operators Registration Identification (EORI) number.

Companies that are UK based will have one of these automatically issued, but EU companies will need to make an application to HMRC. Companies based in the UK wanting to export to EU member states will need an EU EORI number, these can be applied for from any EU member state. We recommend applying to the member state with which you do most trading, if possible. 

Payable duties and VAT at customs

HMRC have a very useful tool that’ll help you calculate the exact amount of UK customs duties and import VAT tariffs that’ll be due at the border for a consignment. This tool will also generate commodity codes for the goods that are to be imported. 

If the goods are leaving the UK and entering the EU, the WTO MFN tariffs will be applied. Please refer to your logistics or freight partner for more information on these fees, and how to find and use the available online tools with which to calculate them. 

Dealing with customs declarations

Customs declaration forms will need to be filled out for all goods that will cross UK and EU borders. Luckily, there are several options for businesses affected by this. The UK government provides training on the topic, complimented by a range of off-the-peg software that will take you through the key points step-by-step. You can also liaise with your logistics or freight partner for further guidance and information. 

Save time and avoid stress with the Transitional Simplified Procedures scheme

Significantly reduce the paperwork and time spent at the border by enrolling with the government’s Transitional Simplified Procedures scheme. Designed to make life easier for businesses importing into the UK, with the aim of alleviating delays at UK customs. There is a range of other schemes aimed at assisting businesses with imports and exports, including a deferred customs clearance scheme and the ability to pay duties and import VAT away from the border beforehand. 

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VAT: The essential knowledge for survival

Should the UK leave the EU on the 31st October, all goods arriving from the EU will be subject to a 20% UK import VAT levy. The best way to avoid having to make cash payments at the border is to go through the HMRC ‘postponed accounting’ route, more information on which can be found on this page of the government’s web portal, gov.uk

Businesses exporting goods to the EU will need to make a few changes to accounting practices. EU import VAT will be due on all exports from the UK entering an EU member state, and will most likely be payable immediately, so provisions should be made and noted in the company accounts. 

There will also be changes to the standard UK VAT return, in that postponed VAT must be declared in boxes 2 and 3 in the VAT return form. All businesses affected by this should ensure they make the relevant changes within the accounting software; your accountant should be happy to help you with this.

VAT registrations in EU member states

Businesses based in the UK but trading with the EU with a foreign VAT return, will be required to have fiscal representation in the member state for which the VAT return needs to be completed. Currently 19 of the EU states require this, with several others accepting returns filled in and processed outside of the country.

Distance selling thresholds and VAT registration

Companies based in the UK with UK VAT numbers that sell goods to EU consumers, typically as merchants through the internet on an e-commerce basis, will need to register for VAT in a member state in order to service the EU market. This is a result of the distance selling threshold. Ask your accountant about how to go about this and they’ll be more than happy to assist.

The importing of low value good under £135

Any business importing goods in individual parcels with a value lower than £135, with the sole intention of reselling these items to UK consumers, will be required to join HMRC’s parcel scheme. This will include parcels worth £15 or less as the existing Low Value Consignment Relief (LVCR) will no longer apply.

Digital services and MOSS

UK based businesses selling digital services to EU consumers will need to register for VAT Mini One Stop Shop (VAT MOSS). A single VAT return can be submitted in any EU member state and the dues paid in said member state.

Reclaiming VAT after a no-deal Brexit

After the 31st October 2019 UK based businesses will be unable to claim back VAT from EU transactions through the VAT recovery portal. If you have outstanding claims it is advised that you complete the process to have the amounts returned before Brexit. If you are an EU based company without outstanding UK VAT claims, the same applies.

The lowdown 

Practitioners will need to ensure they maintain a solid overview of the work involved for each client. Extra work will mount up, so your clients will need to be prepared to cover any extra charges that may be incurred from Brexit preparations, and it’s your responsibility to keep track and bill accordingly. Practices that respond rapidly and effectively to seismic changes in the fiscal landscape – either as a result of Brexit or otherwise – will always retain competitive advantage.

At the time of writing this article, the UK is on course to leave the EU without a deal on the 31st October 2019. Europe has made it clear that any rehashing of the original withdrawal deal that was recently submitted will not be acceptable, giving the UK a clear ultimatum of no-deal Brexit or Brexit extension.

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