On 11 April 2019, HMRC published new guidance Revenue and Customs Brief 2 (2019) setting out their view on the deduction of import VAT by a person who does not own the imported goods

This guidance is of significant importance if you are:

  • a non-owner who reclaims import VAT on goods imported into the UK
  • a 'toll operator'; or
  • advisers or agents dealing with businesses importing goods to the UK

According to this new guidance, HMRC are of the view that the correct procedure is for the owner of the goods to act as the importer of record and reclaim the import VAT on the C79 and not the nonowner in toll-manufacturing arrangements and arrangements involving a supplier who transfers title in goods pre-import. HMRC acknowledge that this was not clear in its previous guidance and is giving business until 15 July 2019 to change their arrangements. HMRC's current position is that it will only accept claims for import tax deduction made by owners of goods after this date.

Although the guidance only mentions two specific scenarios if the principle is applied by HMRC more widely, the new guidance would mean there is limited flexibility as regards to: (i) changing the importer of record for imports into the UK post-Brexit to meet the requirement for the importer to qualify as 'established' in the UK; and (ii) who can act as the importer of record when goods are removed from a customs warehouse and entered into free circulation, including when they have been sold to customers while in the customs warehouse.

Businesses should review their current arrangements and any proposed post-Brexit structure to ensure there is no unintended VAT cost on imports.

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