This is Vat not M&S Vat

I just felt I had to report a case before the tribunal brought by Marks & Spencer. The case revolved around an M&S offer of “dine in for two for £10 with free wine”. Yep, the advert looked great, you had three food choices and a FREE bottle of wine for only £10.

Now we all know that food items are zero rated for Vat purposes and that wine is most definitely standard rated, but in the world of M&S as the wine was apparently FREE then it should be free of vat for M&S.

Well, it was absolutely no surprise to note that the First Tier Tribunal disagreed and guess what – so did the Upper Tribunal. They said that just because you say something is free doesn’t actually mean it is free, because that would go against all the basic economic and commercial realities.

I did review the ruling just in case the judges said that “this is not just VAT, this is HMRC’s VAT”, but sadly they didn’t, which I think is an opportunity missed.

I was mildly surprised to be advised by HMRC that they had recently updated their contact details for Vat general enquiries on their website. I thought I’d have a look to see if there was anything new. Duly listed first up was the offer of a ‘webchat’; interesting, I thought, until I read that “advisers can only talk about VAT, MTD for VAT or using VAT online services” – so not exactly a full service.

There were the telephone numbers listed for calling from the UK and outside the UK. What made me smile was the address to send “long questions or those with an attachment by post” is clearly listed, but where you sent ‘short’ questions or a question that didn’t have an attachment is not mentioned. I suppose if you have a short question to ask and want to write a letter then waffle on for a bit to make it into a long question. However, what made me smile even more was that before the address was stated the following: “Please note, we are currently experiencing high volumes of enquiries and apologies if replies are outside of 15 working days”. There’s nothing like getting your apology in early, is there?

• Tony Margaritelli Chair, ICPA

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