A photo of a man writing his VAT registration

What is a VAT number?

Have you found yourself typing "What is a VAT number" into Google? We get it, they can be confusing. When it comes to your business, VAT registration, types of VAT, and how to invoice with VAT are all topics you’re going to want to be well versed in. 

But who has the time to read endless articles and government advice pages? Probably not you. That’s why we’ve done the reading for you and compiled everything you need to know in one place. Here’s what we’ll walk you through: 

  • What is a VAT number?

  • Whether or not your business needs to register for a VAT number 

  • How to register for your VAT number

  • What information you’ll need to provide 

  • How long it takes to get your VAT number

  • Invoicing before VAT registration

  • Invoicing after VAT registration 

But, before we get into the details, let’s start with the basics…

What is a VAT number? 

VAT number stands for value added tax identification number. Having a VAT number means that a business will add a VAT price to the products or services that they sell. Businesses are then able to get back the VAT that they paid when buying their goods. 

Does my business need a VAT number? 

Luckily, it's easy figure out if your business needs a VAT number. UK law states that if any business’s VAT taxable turnover goes beyond £85,000, or will in the near future, they need to register. Your VAT taxable turnover is everything that your business has sold that isn’t exempt from VAT. 

Products that the UK government has exempted from VAT are:

  • Insurance, finance and credit

  • Education and training

  • Charity fundraising events 

  • Membership organisation subscriptions 

  • Selling, leasing and letting of commercial land and buildings (this can be subject to change) 

Some businesses can be partly exempt depending on what it is they offer. If you’re expecting to go over the VAT taxable limit, you may want to do what’s referred to as voluntary registration. If you end up registering after already going beyond the limit, you’ll be expected to repay what you owe. 

If your business only temporarily goes over the limit, you can apply for exception by reaching out to HMRC. 

 How to get a VAT number? 

Here’s the good news... most UK businesses can register pretty easily online with HMRC. All you’ll need to provide is:

  • Your turnover, business activity and bank details

  • Your registration date 

Once you’ve provided the above information and created a Government Gateway account, you’ll be fully registered for VAT and will be able to submit all of your future online VAT returns. 

Do I have to register myself? 

If you don’t want to go through the hassle, it is perfectly acceptable to get an accountant to take the weight off your shoulders. The UK government allows for an appointed accountant to represent you with all your returns. 

How long does it take to get a VAT number once I’ve registered? 

You should receive a “certificate within about 30 working days from when you registered. Though, this can take longer if they need to check back on anything. The certificate will be sent to your online Government Gateway account. 

What do I do while I wait for my VAT number? 

This is where people tend to get things wrong. You would think that you only start charging VAT once you’ve received your VAT certificate. But, this isn’t the case. The date you register is the date you’re expected to start charging VAT, with or without a number. 

That being said, you can’t issue VAT invoices during this timeframe. We’ll go deeper into that later on. 

What do I do once I’ve received my VAT number? 

The hard part’s over. You’re now VAT registered and ready to get started, but what’s next? 

  1. Start charging the standard UK VAT rate of 20% on all your products and services that aren’t VAT exempt.

  2. Pay VAT on all the products or services that you purchase from other entities. 

  3. File for online VAT returns every quarter.

The goal of all this is to ensure that the amount of VAT you charge and the amount you pay balance each other out, and that if there are any large differences, you get this money back when you file your return every few months. 

Invoicing and VAT registration 

Invoicing can be tricky, and it’s crucial to get it right seeing as HMRC will not allow you to reclaim VAT if your invoice is in any way invalid. Here’s what you need to know so you can always claim what you’re owed. 

Invoicing while waiting for my VAT number 

Instead of highlighting the VAT on an invoice, they suggest you simply increase your price to include the standard UK VAT rate of 20%. 

Here’s an example: 

  • Your normal product costs £13.15. 

  • Instead of making the invoice out as  £13.15 you add 20% and make it out as £15.78.

  • Don’t show your workings out, simply make the invoice total £15.78.

  • You can then send your customer a revised invoice highlighting the VAT amount once you have your VAT number. 

Invoicing once I’ve received my VAT number 

According to government guidelines, there are  three things you need to do to ensure you have a right to your VAT claims. 

  1. The first is to issue valid invoices and keep all of them on file in either paper or digital format. 

  2. The second is to keep hold of sales invoices whether they have or haven’t been cancelled. 

  3. The third is to keep all your purchase invoices for the goods and services your business buys. 

Invoicing with VAT as a small business 

Not everybody’s issued an invoice before, and for a lot of small business owners, it's new territory. That’s why the team at SumUp has created SumUp Invoices, so you can send personalised and professional invoices via your SumUp App in just a few clicks. 


For more tips and tricks on making business easier, head over to the SumUp blog












Max Elias