Reduced rate of VAT for charities on supplies of fuel and power

It is reported that many charities find themselves paying VAT at the standard rate on supplies of fuel and power instead of the reduced rate. The additional cost can be substantial.

On reading the legislation, it seems unnecessarily complex! Hopefully this article makes some sense of it. The legislation is in VAT Act 1994, Sch 7A, Group 1. HMRC Notice 701/19 provides further guidance.

There are three categories of ‘qualifying use’ of fuel and power, ie: supplies which are eligible for the reduced rate. The reduced rate covers supplies of gases, electricity, oils, and solid fuels. Supplies to a charity might fall into any one (or more) of these categories.

  1. De minimis quantities
    • Some supplies of small quantities are always treated as reduced rated. Where a charity uses less than the relevant threshold, the supply is automatically subject to the reduced rate. The charity should review invoices from suppliers to determine if supplies qualify under this provision.
    • You can find the de minimis quantities in VAT Notice 701/19:
  1. Domestic use:
    • Supplies made to certain types of building are eligible for the reduced rate. If a charity owns or operates a building within this definition, supplies are eligible for the reduced rate.
    • This is the same provision that applies the reduced rate to our domestic supplies of fuel and power.
    • Readers may be familiar with the ‘relevant residential purpose’ (RRP) definition from elsewhere (VAT Act 1994, Sch 8, Group 5). The range of eligible buildings is broader than that applying in Sch 8 Group 5.
    • Eligible buildings are:
      • armed forces residential accommodation; caravans; children’s homes; dwellings; hospices; houseboats; monasteries; nunneries and other religious institutions; self-catering holiday accommodation; residential accommodation for students or pupils.
      • Also, residential homes providing care for the elderly, or for disabled persons (this includes persons who have dependence on alcohol or drugs; it also includes persons with mental disorders).
      • Finally, institutions that are the sole or main residence of 90% of the residents.
  1. Use by a charity otherwise than for business use.
    • The reduced rate applies where a charity uses a building entirely for non-business purposes.
    • Charity non-business use also includes use which is at least 60% non-business. Where the proportion of non-business use of the building exceeds 60%, the entire use is treated as non-business, and so the reduced rate applies.
    • There is no fixed method by which the charity has to determine the 60% percentage. It is for the charity to determine the method and calculate accordingly.

There is a different outcome where non-business use is less than 60%. In this instance, an apportionment is required. Again, there is no fixed method by which the charity has to determine this. It is for the charity to determine the method and calculate the apportionment accordingly.

When a charity is eligible to use the reduced rate, either in part or for the whole of its occupied premises, the recipient charity has to provide a certificate to the utility supplier. This should be updated each year to reflect any change in the proportion of non-business and business use. (Some utility suppliers provide suitable certificate templates.) This certificate is not required to be provided to HMRC. It is only when HMRC review the utility company’s VAT Returns that they might review a charity’s certificate.

A charity operating a relevant residential purpose building, for example, is potentially eligible for the reduced rate under more than one category above. We would expect the ‘domestic’ use to be more suitable, to provide for the reduced rate.

Where a charity has overpaid VAT, it should apply for a refund. It has to approach its utility provider for such a refund. Do note that the utility company can adjust its own VAT in most cases without reference to HMRC.

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