By Marcus Leach

VAT rule-breakers have until 31 December to complete the VAT registration process under a time-limited HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) campaign.

In July this year, HMRC launched its VAT Initiative in which rule-breakers were offered a special plan to put right their tax affairs. The chance to participate, and be guaranteed the conditions contained in the plan, ended on 30 September.

Since the opportunity ended, HMRC has been identifying those who did not come forward. Substantially higher penalties and even criminal prosecution could follow.

The VAT Initiative campaign focuses on businesses trading above the VAT registration threshold — for this year, an annual turnover of more than £73,000 — but who have not registered for VAT with HMRC. The trades affected include construction, business services, hair and beauty, hotels and catering, retail distribution, recreational services, motor vehicle distribution and repair, sanitary and domestic services, agriculture and horticulture, property and road haulage.

Under the terms of the VAT Initiative, those who have notified their intention to take part must register for VAT by 31 December 2011. They will then receive their VAT registration number and instructions on how to complete their first VAT return. Once this has been submitted most will face a lower penalty rate of 10 per cent on the VAT that has been paid late.

“Those who have told us of their intention to disclose now have until the end of December to register for VAT. They must then submit their first VAT return and make arrangements to pay," Marian Wilson, HMRC’s Head of Campaigns, said.

“We are determined to ensure everyone pays their fair share and, since September, have begun identifying people and companies who we believe are trading above the VAT threshold but have not come forward. We will be targeting these groups early in the New Year.

“I urge anyone with unpaid tax to use it to come forward and avoid potentially lengthy and costly investigations. The penalty they will pay will still be lower than when HMRC catches up with them.”

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