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Five things to remember when filling in VAT returns

Filling in VAT returns certainly won’t be every business owner’s favourite task, but there are some things which can be done to ensure the process goes smoothly.

1. Preparation is key

It is a lot easier to have all of the necessary figures close at hand before starting to fill in the return. Getting organised prior to beginning will make the job run more smoothly, saving time in the long run. The alternative scenario, in which an individual constantly has to break off from filling in the return in order to scrabble around looking for missing information, is not only quite stressful but could also lead to mistakes being made.

2. Check the guidelines in advance

When submitting VAT returns online, or on paper, ensure the right figures are presented in the correct way by making full use of the help guides provided by HMRC. For those using HMRC’s free VAT Online Service, pages full of useful information can be found on the HMRC website, covering important topics that include what VAT is charged on, the three VAT rates and the difference between zero-rated and exempt items. Business owners who use commercial software for their VAT returns will need to check with the supplier for details on how to complete the return.

3. Paper VAT returns must be filled in precisely

Due to the fact that paper VAT returns are read by machines, it is essential to complete the forms using black ink and to avoid leaving boxes blank or with dashes inside them. While on an online return it would be correct to write “0.00” in a box to indicate zero, on a paper return the word “NONE” should be inserted instead. Only one amount should ever be entered inside a box and negative amounts should be written according to special rules. On paper forms a negative amount would be indicated by placing the figures inside brackets, while, on an online return, a minus sign would be placed in front.

4. Check the deadlines

Deadlines for submitting VAT returns and making payments to HMRC vary according to the method of submission and the way in which VAT is paid. Those who choose the slowest methods – sending a paper return and a cheque in the post – must allow plenty of time for the return and the cheque to reach HMRC. It is important to take into account the time needed for a cheque to clear, which could add another three working days. Completing an online return and paying electronically can make life easier because these are speedier modes of submission and payment, although it may still be necessary to wait for funds to reach HMRC. Generally, using electronic payment methods gives business owners up to seven extra days before the return is due.

5. Know what to do if problems or errors arise

Sometimes, difficulties arise while completing a VAT return, such as the discovery that a vital piece of information is missing. Realising that there are errors on a VAT return that has already been completed is another possibility and, in some cases, these errors can be corrected. If problems arise, calling HMRC’s VAT Helpline is usually the best course of action.

Posted by Louise
October 6, 2013

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