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A brief guide to VAT Schemes for SMBs

For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the United Kingdom, dealing with Value Added Tax (VAT) is a fundamental aspect of financial management. Business owners must understand the various VAT schemes available and the one that would suit their company the most. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into the different types of VAT schemes in the UK, how they work, and how they can impact your business’s financial reporting and KPI monitoring.

One of the primary responsibilities of SMB owners is to manage their finances per UK tax legislation. As part of this responsibility, business owners must consider which VAT scheme is most applicable to their company. There are several options, each offering unique benefits depending on the size and nature of your business. Some of the most common VAT schemes in the UK include:

1. Standard VAT Accounting Scheme
2. Flat Rate VAT Scheme
3. Cash Accounting Scheme
4. Annual Accounting Scheme
5. Retail and Apportionment Schemes
6. Margin Scheme

Throughout this article, we will delve into the nuances of each VAT scheme, providing detailed information on eligibility criteria and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each option. Understanding the intricacies of these schemes can significantly improve your financial management process, streamline your accounts preparation and KPI reporting, and ultimately save you time and money.

Furthermore, choosing the right VAT scheme for your business is essential for maintaining compliance with UK tax legislation. Being well-informed about the different schemes can help prevent unnecessary penalties and complications in the long run. Our guide aims to help you make an informed decision so you can focus on growing your business and improving its processes.

The Standard VAT Accounting Scheme

The Standard VAT Accounting Scheme is the most common VAT scheme used by businesses across the UK. Under this scheme, business owners must calculate the amount of VAT owed by the company based on the difference between the VAT they charged on sales (output VAT) and the VAT they paid on purchases (input VAT). Businesses using this scheme must submit VAT returns and pay any VAT due to HMRC every three months.

Eligibility for the Standard VAT Accounting Scheme is quite broad – any business required to be registered for VAT, regardless of its size, can use this scheme. However, there are certain circumstances where a business might be required to use a different VAT scheme, such as if they have a history of making late VAT returns or payments.

One of the main advantages of using the Standard VAT Accounting Scheme is that businesses can reclaim the full input VAT incurred on their purchases. However, this also means that businesses with a high volume of zero-rated or exempt sales might end up owing money to HMRC, as they cannot claim VAT on their purchases related to these sales.

Flat Rate VAT Scheme

The Flat Rate VAT Scheme is specifically designed for small businesses with a turnover of less than £150,000 (excluding VAT) per annum. Rather than calculating the difference between output and input VAT, businesses using this scheme pay a fixed rate of VAT on sales, regardless of their input VAT. This flat rate is determined by the type of sector or industry your SMB operates in and is typically lower than the standard VAT rate of 20%.

As a result, businesses using this scheme do not have to keep detailed records of their input VAT for every purchase, making the overall process of VAT accounting much simpler to manage. The main advantage of the Flat Rate VAT Scheme is its simplicity, which can save both time and money for small businesses that want to streamline their accounting processes.

However, the downside of using this scheme is that businesses cannot reclaim the VAT paid on their purchases, except for some capital expenditure items over £2,000. This means that if your business incurs a high volume of input VAT on its purchases, you may pay more under the Flat Rate VAT Scheme compared to the Standard VAT Accounting Scheme.

Cash Accounting Scheme

The Cash Accounting Scheme is another alternative to the Standard VAT Accounting Scheme, designed for businesses with an annual turnover of less than £1.35 million. Under this scheme, your business pays VAT based on customer payments for sales rather than when the sales invoice is issued. Similarly, you can only claim input VAT when payment is made to your suppliers.

This cash-based approach can be particularly beneficial for small businesses that experience long delays between raising an invoice and receiving payment from customers, as it provides a more accurate reflection of the business’s cash flow. This scheme allows businesses to avoid owing VAT on unpaid invoices, thus improving their cash flow management.

On the other hand, if your business regularly receives prompt payments from customers or operates primarily with upfront payments, you might be better off using the Standard VAT Accounting Scheme or another alternative scheme.

Annual Accounting Scheme

The Annual Accounting Scheme offers yet another option for small businesses with a turnover of up to £1.35 million per annum. This scheme allows businesses to make advance VAT payments throughout the year based on an estimated total amount before submitting an annual VAT return and making a final balancing payment.

The primary benefit of the Annual Accounting Scheme is that it reduces the administrative burden on businesses, as they only need to submit one VAT return per year instead of four. Additionally, this scheme helps improve cash flow management by spreading VAT payments throughout the year rather than in quarterly lump sums.

However, under this scheme, keeping track of VAT liabilities throughout the year can be more challenging, which may lead to inaccuracies in your accounts preparation and KPI reporting. Furthermore, if your VAT payments throughout the year are significantly lower than the actual amount due, your SMB may face a large balancing payment at the end of the year.


Several VAT schemes are available to small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, each offering unique benefits depending on the nature of your business. By carefully considering your SMB’s requirements, such as its size, turnover, and cash flow, as well as the level of input and output VAT it incurs, you can choose the VAT scheme that best suits your financial management needs.

Understanding the different types of VAT schemes, their intricacies, and their potential impacts on your business’s financial reporting can help streamline your processes, save time and money, and maintain compliance with UK tax legislation. Whichever VAT scheme you choose, periodic reviews and professional advice can help ensure your business is always on the right track.

If you would like assistance from our team at Jenkins & Co. to help determine the most suitable VAT scheme for your UK-based SMB, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our dedicated bookkeeping and accounting professionals will guide and support you with all aspects of your financial management and process improvement needs; and if what you require isn’t within our core specialty, we’ll direct you to one of our partners who will be able to help you.