Reverse charge VAT: Will it affect construction businesses?

HMRC is set to unveil draft legislation and guidance later this month on a new ‘reverse charge’ mechanism which will change the way the construction industry deals with VAT.

The move is the latest in a series of HMRC initiatives – including the changes introduced earlier this year to the way online retailers handle their VAT payments – to tackle VAT fraud, which is estimated to cost the UK billions of pounds every year.

So what is the reverse charge, and how will it affect construction businesses?

What is the reverse charge VAT mechanism?

The reverse charge mechanism is HMRC’s way of trying to tackle the problem of ‘vanishing tradesmen’ – suppliers who charge and collect VAT for their services, but then disappear before they ever pass it on to HMRC.

Under the new regime, a VAT-registered business supplying construction services to another VAT-registered business will have to issue a VAT invoice stating that the service is subject to the reverse charge. Rather than paying any VAT to that supplier, the company receiving those services will need to account for the VAT on that supply itself through its VAT return; it can then recover the VAT as input tax, subject to the standard rules.

So, for example, if you own a construction development company and hire other suppliers – such as bricklayers, plasterers, and painters and decorators – you will no longer leave them to charge or declare and pay any VAT that you’ve paid them for their services. Instead, as of October 2020, you will charge your own business the VAT on these services, and pass it directly to HMRC.

Reverse charge VAT: Construction workers meeting

Will your construction business be affected by reverse charged VAT?

The reverse VAT charge mechanism is due to apply to the same range of construction services that are currently covered by the Construction Industry Scheme. It also only applies to those specified services supplied to another construction business, which will, in turn, sell on those services.

If, for example, you employ a builder to extend your property, the reverse charge is not an issue for you. But if you are a general builder who hires other specialist trades such as roofers or electricians to help you complete extensions for clients, it is likely that the reverse charge will affect you.

Which supplies are affected by reverse charge VAT?

The following services will be covered by the reverse charge VAT mechanism:

  • Construction, alteration, repair, extension, demolition or dismantling of buildings or structures (whether permanent or not), including offshore installations
  • Construction, alteration, repair, extension or demolition of any works forming, or to form, part of the land, including walls, roadworks, power-lines, electronic communications apparatus, aircraft runways, docks and harbours, railways, inland waterways, pipelines, reservoirs, water mains, wells, sewers, industrial plant and installations for purposes of land drainage, coast protection or defence
  • Installation in any building or structure of systems of heating, lighting, air-conditioning, ventilation, power supply, drainage, sanitation, water supply or fire protection
  • Internal cleaning of buildings and structures, so far as carried out in the course of their construction, alteration, repair, extension or restoration
  • Painting or decorating the internal or external surfaces of any building or structure
  • Services related to the above, including site clearance, earthmoving, excavation, tunnelling and boring, laying foundations, erecting scaffolding, site restoration, landscaping, and the provision of roadways and other access works.

The reverse charge mechanism only applies to supplies of construction services which are subject to standard rate or reduced rate of VAT.

What supplies are excluded?

The following services are not included in the definition of construction services:

  • Drilling for, or extraction of, oil or natural gas
  • Extraction of minerals and tunnelling or boring, or construction of underground works, for this purpose
  • Manufacture of building or engineering components or equipment, materials, plant or machinery, or delivery of any of these things to a site
  • Manufacture of components for systems of heating, lighting, air-conditioning, ventilation, power supply, drainage, sanitation, water supply or fire protection, or delivery of any of these things to a site
  • The professional work of architects or surveyors, or of consultants in building, engineering, interior or exterior decoration, or in the layout of landscape
  • The making, installation and repair of artistic works, such as sculptures, murals and other works which are wholly artistic in nature
  • Signwriting and erecting, installing and repairing signboards and advertisements
  • Installing seating, blinds and shutters
  • Installing security systems, including burglar alarms, closed-circuit television and public address systems.

What do you need to do?

If you supply any of the services listed above that will be affected by the introduction of the reverse charge VAT mechanism, it’s important to understand how the measure might impact on your business operation. HMRC has already accepted that the impact on the industry is potentially significant; construction companies will have to adapt their accounting systems to process reverse charge supplies correctly and ensure that supplies and purchases are correctly treated. Some businesses may also see significant variation in cash flow, as they will no longer be able to use VAT collected from customers as working capital before paying it on to HMRC.

To contact Douglas Todd about any of the points raised in the article above, feel free to get in touch using the form further below.

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.


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