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VAT isn’t the simplest thing to get your head around, and at times the terminology makes it seem more complex. To help you make sense of it all we explain what HMRC mean by some of the most frequently used VAT jargon to help you get going.

12-month period

For VAT purposes, this isn’t a calendar or financial or tax year – it’s the rolling 12-month period leading up to this point in time. So, if you’re near the threshold you’ll need to keep a careful eye on your figures. If you go over the threshold in any 12-month period, you must register for VAT.

Accounting scheme

There are different VAT accounting schemes available, which can affect the way that you report and pay VAT. Learn more about the different VAT schemes and their requirements.


You can cancel your VAT registration if the business is no longer eligible or if it stops trading. Cancel within 30 days of becoming ineligible, or you might attract HMRC penalties!


Disbursements are things that your business spends money on, the cost of which you then recharge to your customer. They’re a bit different to expenses, and the difference has implications for VAT. Read our guide for more help.

Domestic reverse charge

With some goods and services it’s the customer’s responsibility, rather than the supplier’s, to account for VAT. This is known as the domestic reverse charge and applies to goods and services such as computer chips and emission allowances, as well as VAT-registered businesses in the Construction Industry Scheme.

Effective date of registration

This is the date you went over the registration threshold or requested voluntary registration.

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Exempt goods and services

These are supplies and services that you can’t charge VAT on. For example, insurance, postage stamps, or health services provided by doctors. The government website has a full list of goods and services that are VAT exempt.

Out of scope

This refers to goods and services which are outside the VAT tax system, that you can’t charge or reclaim VAT on. Charges outside the scope of VAT typically include charges made by the government, such as MOT testing or the London congestion charge. Another typical example is the wages that you pay to employees.


Registering for VAT tells HMRC that your business will now start making regular VAT submissions.

You must register for VAT if:

Learn more about how to register in our VAT registration guide.


Registration exception

You can apply for a registration exception if your taxable turnover only goes over the threshold temporarily. Write to HMRC with evidence showing why you believe your VAT taxable turnover won’t go over the de-registration threshold of £83,000 in the next 12 months. HMRC will either confirm your exception or register you for VAT.

Registration threshold

The taxable turnover figure that makes your business liable for compulsory VAT registration. The current threshold is £85,000. It usually increases on 1 April each year.

VAT number

This is the unique reference number which identifies your VAT registration with HMRC. You’ll need to include your VAT reference number on every invoice.

VAT rate

This is the rate of VAT which applies to goods and services.

Voluntary registration

Some businesses find it useful to register for VAT even though their turnover is less than registration threshold. This is known as making a voluntary registration. There can be several reasons for doing this, including being more tax efficient.

Taxable turnover

VAT taxable turnover is the total value of your UK sales that aren’t VAT exempt, including:

Zero-rated items

Zero-rated means that the goods are still VAT-taxable but the rate of VAT you must charge your customers is 0%. You still have to record them in your VAT accounts and report them to HMRC. Examples include children’s clothes and shoes, or motorcycle helmets.

Learn more about our online accounting services for VAT. Call the team on 020 3355 4047 and get an instant quote online.

About The Author

Dean Salmon

I'm an AAT and ACA qualified Chartered Accountant with over 13 years experience working with businesses, contractors and sole traders. I also love watching live music, and quizzes! Learn more about Dean.

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