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UK VAT for Ecommerce: How VAT Works for UK Businesses – E-commerce and General Trades

Jun 1, 2023 | Business, E-Commerce, UK Accounting

Value Added Tax (VAT) is a tax levied on goods and services in the United Kingdom (UK) and many other countries worldwide.

For UK businesses, VAT can be complex and challenging, with many rules and regulations to follow. However, understanding the basics of VAT is essential for any business that wants to operate legally and efficiently.

This blog will explore UK VAT for E-Commerce and General Trade. After reading this, you will better understand how VAT works and how to manage it effectively for your business. So, let’s dive in!

UK VAT for Ecommerce and General Trade

UK VAT for Ecommerce: What is VAT?

Value Added Tax (VAT) applies to sales of goods and services. It is a type of indirect tax collected by businesses from their customers on behalf of the government.

Charging of VAT is involved at every stage of production or distribution, from the manufacturer to the wholesaler and from the wholesaler to the retailer. The final consumer then pays the VAT included in the price of the product or service.

How does VAT work?

VAT is charged on selling goods and services at the current rate of 20%. However, some goods and services are subject to a reduced rate of 5% or are exempt from VAT.

Usually, VAT is already included in the price of a product or service, but it can also be shown separately on the invoice for clarity and transparency to the customers.

If you are a VAT-registered business, you must charge VAT on the goods and services you sell and also pay VAT on what they buy for your business, such as the cost of materials, supplies, support services, etc.

But the good thing is that you can use the VAT you paid on your business purchases to lower your VAT liability. With that, the difference between the collected VAT on sold goods (output VAT) and the paid VAT on purchases (input VAT) must be remitted to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

VAT Registration

If the annual turnover of your business exceeds the VAT threshold, currently £85,000, it should register for VAT. And if you expect your business turnover to exceed the threshold in the next 30 days, you must also register.

If your business is below the threshold, you can also register voluntarily, but you are not required to do so.

However, whether mandatory or voluntary, once you register your business for VAT, you must charge VAT on all taxable goods and services you sell and submit regular VAT returns to HMRC. The frequency of VAT returns depends on the turnover of the business.

VAT for E-Commerce

Regardless of your business type, whether you are an e-commerce seller, you must also register for VAT if your annual turnover exceeds the VAT threshold. This applies to both UK-based and non-UK-based e-commerce businesses.

If your business is based outside the UK but sells goods to UK customers, you must register for VAT in the UK and charge VAT. You must also submit VAT returns to HMRC.

However, it will be another case if your business is based in the UK but sells goods to customers in other countries. You may have to register for VAT in those countries and charge VAT on the sale. This depends on the VAT rules of the customer’s country.

VAT for General Trades

The standard scheme of VAT applies to General Trades. The process is straightforward since they usually do not involve cross-border sales, unlike e-commerce businesses.

VAT is charged on goods or services at the point of sale, whether in-store or through a traditional sales channel. The VAT is then collected by the business and remitted to the government regularly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the consequences of not registering for VAT if my business exceeds the VAT threshold?

    If your business exceeds the VAT threshold and fails to register for VAT, you may be subject to penalties and interest charges. HMRC can also take legal action to recover any unpaid VAT.

    You may also face criminal prosecution if you knowingly fail to register for VAT. The penalties for VAT fraud can include fines, imprisonment, and seizure of assets.

    In addition, if you don’t register for VAT when you should, you won’t be able to claim back the VAT you have paid on your purchases. This can increase your costs and reduce your profitability.

  • How can I determine whether a product or service is subject to VAT? 

    As mentioned in this blog, most goods and services are subject to VAT at the standard rate of 20%. However, some goods and services are subject to a reduced rate of 5% or are exempt from VAT altogether.

    You can check HMRC’s VAT rates and exemptions guidance to determine whether a product or service is subject to VAT.

    In addition, if you’re unsure whether a product or service is subject to VAT, you can seek advice from a qualified accountant or tax adviser.

  • How can I simplify the VAT process for my business?

    The VAT process can be complex and time-consuming, especially for businesses new to VAT or with a high volume of transactions. However, several ways exist to simplify this and reduce the administrative burden on your business.

    One option is to use accounting software that is designed explicitly for VAT. This software can automate many VAT processes, such as calculating VAT amounts and generating VAT returns.

    It can also help you to stay compliant with VAT regulations and reduce the risk of errors.
    Another option is to outsource your VAT compliance to a specialist firm. This can be particularly useful for businesses with complex VAT issues or who lack the in-house expertise to manage VAT effectively.

    A specialist firm can provide various services, including VAT registration, return preparation, planning, and compliance advice


VAT is a complex tax that can be difficult for businesses to understand and manage. However, it is an integral part of the UK tax system and a significant revenue source for the government. If you need clarification on your VAT compliance, check out Sterlinx Global.

Related posts:

Most Common Record-Keeping Practices from your UK Tax for a UK-Based Business for Accountancy and VAT

What needs to be included on a VAT invoice? – An Easy Guide for Business Owners

VAT Cash Accounting Scheme: A Helpful Guide for Business Owners

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