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HMRC launches UK VAT number checking tool

Newsletter issue - January 2021

Following the UK's exit from the European Union, VAT registration details of UK companies will no longer be maintained on the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES). Being able to check the validity of a new supplier's VAT number is an important step in combatting VAT fraud.

For example, a rogue supplier might provide what looks like a valid VAT invoice to another business. In reality, the supplier isn't VAT registered and the VAT registration number on the invoice is fake. The supplier simply pockets the 20% "VAT" charged. The problem for the customer is that they haven't really paid any input tax. If they include it on their VAT return and this is discovered during a compliance check, they will need to repay it to HMRC.

The only tool available via HMRC until recently could only check whether a VAT number was in a valid format - not whether it was a genuine number or not. However, in preparation for the end of the Brexit transitional period HMRC launched a more comprehensive checker for UK numbers in December 2020. This provides a real-time check that a number is valid and gives the name and address of the business. The new tool can be found at https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-vat-number. The VIES tool should still be used for EU-based suppliers.