Introduction: What is VAT?

VAT or Value Added Tax. In this complete guide to VAT, learn why VAT is used in the UK, how to find your VAT number, and how to calculate VAT.

What is VAT for UK?

VAT, which stands for Value Added Tax, is a consumption tax that is applied to goods and services in the United Kingdom. It is a tax that is added at each stage of the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the retailer, and ultimately to the consumer. 


VAT rate in it’s simplest form can be explained as a tax that is included in the price of goods and services. When you buy something, a portion of the price you pay goes towards VAT. The rate of VAT varies depending on the type of goods or services being purchased. VAT is an important source of revenue for the UK government, as it helps fund public services such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure. It is also used as a tool to regulate consumption and encourage certain behaviors. For example, the government may apply a higher rate of VAT to luxury goods to discourage excessive spending. 


Understanding VAT is important because it affects our everyday lives. It is included in the prices we pay for goods and services, and it is important to be aware of how it is calculated and applied. By understanding VAT, we can make informed decisions about our purchases and better understand the impact of taxation on our economy.

Three Types of VAT in the UK

Three Types of VAT in the UK VAT in the UK can be categorized into three basic types: standard rate, reduced rate, and zero rate. Understanding these different types of VAT is important as they determine the amount of tax that is added to the price of goods and services. 

The standard rate of VAT is the most common and is currently set at 20%. This rate applies to most goods and services, including everyday items such as clothing, electronics, and furniture. When you purchase these items, 20% of the price you pay goes towards VAT. The reduced rate of VAT is a lower rate of tax that applies to certain goods and services. Currently set at 5%, this rate is typically applied to items such as children’s car seats, energy-saving materials, and sanitary products. 

The reduced rate is designed to make these essential items more affordable for consumers. 

The zero rate of VAT is the lowest rate of tax and applies to specific goods and services that are considered essential or exempt from VAT. This includes items such as food, books, newspapers, and public transport. While no VAT is added to the price of these items, businesses can still claim back any VAT they have paid on their inputs. 

Understanding the different types of VAT is important as it helps us make informed decisions about our purchases and budgeting. By knowing which items are subject to different rates of VAT, we can better plan our expenses and understand the impact of taxation on our everyday lives.


What is Your VAT Number?

what is your vat numberA VAT Number, also known as a Value Added Tax Identification Number, is a unique identifier assigned to businesses that are registered for VAT. This number is used for identification and communication purposes with tax authorities and other businesses. 

To find your VAT number, you can refer to your VAT registration certificate or any correspondence you have received from the tax authority. It is important to keep this number handy as you may be required to provide it when invoicing customers or when dealing with VAT-related matters. Your VAT number is essential for ensuring compliance with VAT regulations and for claiming back any VAT you have paid on business expenses. It is also important to note that your VAT number may vary depending on the country you are registered in. For example, in the UK, a VAT number starts with the prefix “GB” followed by a series of numbers. 


Having a VAT number is crucial for businesses operating in countries where VAT is applicable. It helps to streamline tax processes, maintain accurate records, and ensure transparency in financial transactions. If you are unsure about your VAT number or need assistance, it is recommended to consult with a tax professional or contact the relevant tax authority for guidance.


What is VAT Charged On?

VAT, or Value Added Tax, is a consumption tax that is charged on most goods and services in the UK. It is a tax that is added to the price of a product or service at each stage of production and distribution. VAT is charged when a business sells goods or services to another business or to a final consumer. It is also charged on imports from countries outside the European Union. 

The purpose of VAT is to generate revenue for the government and to ensure that businesses contribute to the cost of public services. VAT is charged on a wide range of goods and services, including everyday items such as food, clothing, and electronics. It is also charged on services such as repairs, professional fees, and entertainment. However, there are some goods and services that are exempt from VAT, such as certain types of financial services, education, and healthcare. 

The rate at which VAT is charged can vary depending on the type of goods or services being sold. In the UK, there are three main rates of VAT: the standard rate of 20%, the reduced rate of 5%, and the zero rate. The zero rate applies to certain goods and services, such as most food items, children’s clothing, and books. Understanding what VAT is charged on is important for individuals and businesses alike, as it affects the prices we pay for goods and services. By knowing which goods and services are subject to VAT, we can make informed decisions about our purchases and budget accordingly.

Why Does Europe Use VAT?

Europe is known for its widespread use of VAT compared to other parts of the world. There are several reasons why VAT is so common in Europe. One reason is that VAT provides a reliable source of revenue for governments. By charging VAT on goods and services, governments can generate significant income to fund public services and infrastructure. This is especially important in countries with extensive social welfare systems, as VAT helps to finance healthcare, education, and other essential services. 

Another reason is that VAT is considered a fair and equitable tax system. Unlike other forms of taxation, such as income tax, VAT is a consumption-based tax. This means that individuals and businesses pay VAT based on their consumption of goods and services, rather than their income or profits. This ensures that everyone contributes to the tax system, regardless of their income level. 

Additionally, VAT is easier to administer and enforce compared to other tax systems. The collection of VAT is typically the responsibility of businesses, who are required to register for VAT and charge it on their sales. This simplifies the tax collection process for governments and reduces the likelihood of tax evasion. 

Overall, the widespread use of VAT in Europe can be attributed to its effectiveness in generating revenue, its fairness as a tax system, and its ease of administration. These factors have made VAT a popular choice for governments across the continent.

Why Does VAT Rate Vary by Country?

The VAT rate varies by country due to several factors. One of the main reasons is that each country has the autonomy to set its own tax policies and rates. This means that governments can determine the VAT rate that best suits their economic and social needs. 

Another factor that influences the VAT rate is the level of economic development in a country. Countries with higher levels of development often have higher VAT rates to generate more revenue for public services and infrastructure. On the other hand, countries with lower levels of development may have lower VAT rates to stimulate economic growth and support businesses. 

Additionally, the VAT rate can be influenced by political decisions and priorities. Governments may choose to increase or decrease the VAT rate based on their fiscal policies, such as reducing the budget deficit or promoting certain industries. 

Furthermore, the VAT rate can also be affected by international trade agreements and competition. Countries that are part of regional economic blocs or have strong trade relationships with other countries may align their VAT rates to maintain competitiveness and avoid trade imbalances. 

In summary, the VAT rate varies by country due to factors such as national autonomy, economic development, political decisions, and international trade dynamics. Check this table to see a current report of VAT rates by country.

How to Calculate VAT?

To calculate VAT, you can use a simple formula that anyone can understand. 

The formula is as follows: VAT Amount = Total Price * VAT Rate

Let’s break down the formula further. The total price refers to the amount you paid for a product or service, including any applicable taxes. The VAT rate is the percentage of the total price that represents the VAT. For example, let’s say you purchased a laptop for £1000, and the VAT rate is 20%. 

To calculate the VAT amount, you would multiply the total price (£1000) by the VAT rate (20%): VAT Amount = £1000 * 0.20 = £200 Therefore, the VAT amount for the laptop would be £200. This means that £200 of the total price you paid goes towards VAT. 

To find the final price including VAT, you would add the VAT amount to the total price: Final Price = Total Price + VAT Amount 

In this case, the final price would be £1000 + £200 = £1200. By using this simple formula, you can easily calculate the VAT amount and determine the final price of a product or service. It’s important to note that VAT rates may vary by country, so always check the applicable rate for your location.

Our proprietary VAT Calculator will assist you with easily making these calculations.

important vat dates uk


The information above has been verified & approved by a Chartered Accountant.