VAT Flat Rate Scheme

The flat rate scheme for small businesses was introduced to reduce the administrative burden imposed when operating VAT.

Under the scheme a set percentage is applied to the turnover of the business as a one-off calculation instead of having to identify and record the VAT on each sale and purchase you make.

Who can join?

The scheme is optional and available to businesses with anticipated taxable turnover (excluding VAT) of £150,000 or less in the next 12 months. A business must leave the scheme when income in the last twelve months exceeds £230,000, unless HMRC are satisfied that income will fall below £191,500 in the following year. A business must also leave the scheme if there are reasonable grounds to believe that total income is likely to exceed £230,000 in the next 30 days.

The turnover test applies to your anticipated turnover in the following 12 months. Your turnover may be calculated in any reasonable way but would usually be based on the previous 12 months if you have been registered for VAT for at least a year.

To join the scheme you can apply by post, email or phone and if you are not already registered for VAT you must submit a form VAT1 at the same time.

You may not operate the scheme until you have received notification that your application has been accepted and HMRC will inform you of the date of commencement.

When is the scheme not available?

The flat rate scheme cannot be used if you:

  • use the second hand margin scheme or auctioneers' scheme
  • use the tour operators' margin scheme
  • are required to operate the capital goods scheme for certain items.

In addition the scheme cannot be used if, within the previous 12 months, you have:

  • ceased to operate the flat rate scheme
  • been convicted of an offence connected with VAT
  • been assessed with a penalty for conduct involving dishonesty.

The scheme will clearly be inappropriate if you regularly receive VAT repayments.

How the scheme operates

VAT due is calculated by applying a predetermined flat rate percentage to the business turnover of the VAT period. This will include any exempt supplies and it will therefore not generally be beneficial to join the scheme where there are significant exempt supplies.

The percentage rates are determined according to the trade sector of your business and generally range from 4% to 16.5%. The table in the appendix to this factsheet summarises the percentages. In addition there is a further 1% reduction off the normal rates for businesses in their first year of VAT registration. If your business falls into more than one sector it is the main business activity as measured by turnover which counts. This can be advantageous if you have a large percentage rate secondary activity and a modest major percentage trade. You should review the position on each anniversary of joining the scheme and if the main business activity changes or you expect it to change during the following year you should use the appropriate rate for that sector.

Although you pay VAT at the flat rate percentage under the scheme you will still be required to prepare invoices to VAT registered customers showing the normal rate of VAT. This is so that they can reclaim input VAT at the appropriate rate.

Example of the calculation

Cook & Co is a partnership operating a café and renting out a flat. If its results are as follows:

VAT inclusive turnover:


Standard rated catering supplies


Zero rated takeaway foods


Exempt flat rentals




Flat rate 12.5% x £79,000 = £9,875

Normally £70,000 x 20/120 = £11,667 less input tax

During the period 15 July 2020 to 12 January 2021 this calculation is revised to

Flat rate 4.5% x £79,000 = £3,555

And £70,000 x 5/105 (reduced rate)  = £3,333 less input tax

Limited cost trader

A 16.5% rate applies for businesses with limited costs, such as many labour-only businesses. Businesses using the FRS, or considering joining the scheme, will need to decide if they are a 'limited cost trader'.

A limited cost trader will be defined as one whose VAT inclusive expenditure on goods is either:

  • less than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover in a prescribed accounting period
  • greater than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover but less than £1,000 per annum if the prescribed accounting period is one year (if it is not one year, the figure is the relevant proportion of £1,000).

Goods, for the purposes of this measure, must be used exclusively for the purpose of the business but exclude the following items:

  • capital expenditure
  • food or drink for consumption by the flat rate business or its employees
  • vehicles, vehicle parts and fuel (except where the business is one that carries out transport services - for example a taxi business - and uses its own or a leased vehicle to carry out those services)
  • Goods for re-sale, or hiring out, unless selling or hiring is the main business activity
  • Goods to be used as promotional items or gifts.

These exclusions are part of the test to prevent traders buying either low value everyday items or one off purchases in order to inflate their costs beyond 2%.

Treatment of capital assets

The purchase of capital assets costing more than £2,000 (including VAT) may be dealt with outside the scheme. You can claim input VAT on such items on your VAT return in the normal way. Where the input VAT is reclaimed you must account for VAT on a subsequent sale of the asset at the normal rate instead of the flat rate.

Items under the capital goods scheme are excluded from the flat rate scheme.

Transactions within the European Community

Income from sales of goods is included in your turnover figure.

Where there are acquisitions from EC member states you will still be required to record the VAT on your VAT return in the normal way even though you will not be able to reclaim the input VAT unless it is a capital item as outlined above.

The rules on intra-EC services are complex. Please get in touch if this is an issue so that we can give you specific advice.

Records to keep

Under the scheme you must keep a record of your flat rate calculation showing:

  • your flat rate turnover
  • the flat rate percentage you have used
  • the tax calculated as due.

You must still keep a VAT account although if the only VAT to be accounted for is that calculated under the scheme there will only be one entry for each period.


The scheme is designed to reduce administration although it will only be attractive if it does not result in additional VAT liabilities. The only way to establish whether your business will benefit is to carry out a calculation and comparison of the normal rules and the flat rate rules.

How we can help

We can advise as to whether the flat rate scheme would be beneficial for your business and help you to operate the scheme. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

Appendix: Table of sectors and rates

Trade Sector

Appropriate %

Accountancy or book-keeping




Agricultural services


Any other activity not listed elsewhere


Architect, civil and structural engineer or surveyor


Boarding or care of animals


Business services that are not listed elsewhere


Catering services including restaurants and takeaways before 15 July 2020 and after 12 January 2021


Catering services including restaurants and takeaways between 15 July 2020 and 12 January 2021


Computer and IT consultancy or data processing


Computer repair services


Dealing in waste or scrap


Entertainment or journalism


Estate agency or property management services


Farming or agriculture that is not listed elsewhere


Film, radio, television or video production


Financial services


Forestry or fishing


General building or construction services*


Hairdressing or other beauty treatment services


Hiring or renting goods


Hotel or accommodation before 15 July 2020 and after 12 January 2021


Hotel or accommodation between 15 July 2020 and 12 January 2021


Investigation or security


Labour-only building or construction services*


Laundry or dry-cleaning services


Lawyer or legal services


Library, archive, museum or other cultural activity


Management consultancy


Manufacturing fabricated metal products


Manufacturing food


Manufacturing that is not listed elsewhere


Manufacturing yarn, textiles or clothing


Membership organisation


Mining or quarrying






Post offices






Pubs before 15 July 2020 and after 12 January 2021


Pubs between 15 July 2020 and 12 January 2021


Real estate activity not listed elsewhere


Repairing personal or household goods


Repairing vehicles


Retailing food, confectionery, tobacco, newspapers or children's clothing


Retailing pharmaceuticals, medical goods, cosmetics or toiletries


Retailing that is not listed elsewhere


Retailing vehicles or fuel


Secretarial services


Social work


Sport or recreation


Transport or storage, including couriers, freight, removals and taxis


Travel agency


Veterinary medicine


Wholesaling agricultural products


Wholesaling food


Wholesaling that is not listed elsewhere


* 'Labour-only building or construction services' means building or construction services where the value of materials supplied is less than 10 per cent of relevant turnover from such services; any other building or construction services are 'general building or construction services'.