HMRC’s Task Forces are working across the UK to target cash businesses – particularly those involved with catering. The potential issues HMRC are looking for include under-declarations of sales, incorrect liability, standard-rated/zero-rated apportionments on eat-in and takeaway foods and the VAT treatment of tips and gratuities.

Test Purchases at Cash Businesses

As well as carrying out scheduled visits to discuss the business and review records, HMRC is also likely to carry out test purchases. In this scenario, officers attend the premises as a paying customer without declaring themselves, paying for their meals in cash. The officer will revisit to review business records after submission of the relevant VAT return to check whether their cash payments have been declared.

Where they hold the relevant authority, HMRC can make unannounced visits to the business to interrogate the till system, and verify the takings on a particular day.

Records held by many cash businesses are insufficient to enable them to answer the questions raised by HMRC during these enquiries. Most businesses are aware of their requirement to keep the audit trail of their Daily Gross Takings and other sales.

For most businesses with a modern till system, this will be in the form of a Z reading, which reports all the sales recorded in the till, at the various rates of VAT. Many organisations do not, however, appear to be aware that the till will also record any adjustments made to the till, e.g. credits, voids, no sale buttons used etc.

The Z read can be set up to report all such transactions and the values attributed to them. If set up properly this provides valuable management reporting for the owner of a business; especially one not always present at the restaurant, and demonstrates to HMRC that the owner is exerting an element of control.

An Audit Trail

Even if not included within the Z read report, reports of transactions voided/credited from the till can be downloaded with relative ease by the HMRC Till Interrogation officers. As well as an audit trail of transactions that have been included in the VAT reporting, a business needs to have an audit trail/explanation for those transactions that have not been included in the VAT reporting. This could include:

• Vouchers redeemed to pay for a meal

• Customers moving table, resulting in transactions being deleted and re-input onto another table No

• Items deleted from a bill due to customer complaints

• Realistically, how many businesses could satisfy a VAT inspector on why transactions have been deleted from the till

Where there are both standard-rated and zero-rated sales, if the liability of those sales cannot be identified and recorded at the point of sale, a business will need to be able to demonstrate how the standard/zero-rate apportionment applied for the VAT returns has been established. VAT notice 727 in section 8 sets out the catering adaptation for businesses not using the Point of Sale retail scheme.

HMRC requires that the apportionment is reviewed regularly, which will reflect seasonal variations to the trade. HMRC’s observation or invigilation may be used to test the liabilities applied.

Where prices and menus change, we recommend businesses keep a copy of each menu, and the start/end dates it applied.

Service Charges

Service charges, tips and gratuities, if freely given by the customer and in addition to the standard charge for meals, are outside the scope of VAT as they are not part of the consideration for the supply.

Do the menu and bill make it clear that any service charge is discretionary? If it is not made clear, or a customer is obliged to pay a compulsory service charge, for example, a 10% charge is added to all meal bills, or to bills where a set number of customers is reached. That service charge is seen to be further considered for the supply of the meal, even if paid in full to staff as bonuses.

If you’d like some help getting your records in order, feel free to get in touch.