Tuesday, 5 August 2008

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VATman Begins

Doing the tax return at work for the first time led me to begin researching which foodstuffs you can and can't reclaim the VAT on, which in turn led me to this riveting official HM Revenue and Customs document.

Until now I'd assumed the distinction was pretty much luxury items verses staple subsistence, but apparently that would be too straightforward for Her Majesty's esteemed pedants - this tome runs to 24 pages of exceptions, addendums and miscellaneous illogical quibbling!

For instance, biscuits which contain chocolate chips are zero-rated, but if the chocolate forms a partial or complete coating, tax is applicable. Ah, I see. Lots of chocolate = VATable. But wait, cornflake cakes which are drenched in chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate spread and even chocolate body paint are VAT free. Chocolate visibility is key too it seems - if the chocolate is wedged between the biscuit layers and hence out of sight as you'd find in a Bourbon, VAT shouldn't be levied. We should also note that you don't need to pay VAT if the chocolate is on the surface, but the manufacturers stick 'cake' on the packaging as in the case of Jaffa Cakes. These definitely aren't biscuits and anyone who dares to make such an absurd claim will be sued out of existence.

Likewise, if you sell sweetened dried fruit and claim it's for snacking and home baking you don't need to charge VAT on it. However, if you sell an identical product and neglect to mention to your befuddled customers - who would never have made the mental leap otherwise - that you could shove the stuff in a cake, you're obliged to charge VAT.

Speaking of cakes, they're tax-free while biscuits and crisps aren't, which explains why Pringles are no longer crisps... up is now down and black is white.

My favourite though is the case of marshmallow teacakes verses Snowballs. Marshmallow teacakes if they have "a crumb, biscuit or cake base topped with a dome of marshmallow coated in either chocolate, sugar strands or coconut" are zero-rated whereas "Snowballs without such a base are classed as confectionery" and so are sold plus VAT. Next time we order anything resembling the above as part of a client entertaining exercise I must remember to interrupt the meeting, clipboard at the ready donned in a lab coat poised to analyse the constituency of the foundations.