VAT exemption – What is VAT exemption?

VAT exemption can refer to either goods and services that are not subject to VAT or to organisations that cannot register for VAT.

It's important for companies to make sure that their invoices contain the correct information about VAT – even if they're exempt. Learn more about creating VAT invoices.

When most products are sold, a consumption tax known as VAT is added to the product's original sales price; however, VAT shouldn’t be applied to certain goods or services. Products that shouldn’t be taxed are considered to be exempt from VAT.

Businesses, charities, and other types of organisations can also be considered to be exempt from VAT. A business is VAT-exempt if they only sell VAT-exempt products, or if they’re not involved with taxable ‘business activities’.

VAT exemption for goods and services

Although most goods and services are taxed at 20% VAT, some products are taxed at a reduced VAT rate or are exempt from VAT altogether. If something is exempt from VAT, it’s usually because the product is considered to be an essential good or service.

HMRC has a full list of VAT-exempt products, but some of the main goods and services that are exempt from VAT include:

  • Sporting activities and physical education

  • Education and training

  • Some medical treatments

  • Financial services, insurance and investments

Goods and services that are exempt from VAT are not taxable. This means that:

  • You shouldn’t include VAT in the price of any exempt items that you sell

  • You can’t reclaim VAT on any exempt items that you purchase

  • Sales of VAT-exempt products don’t count towards your VAT taxable turnover

  • You don’t need to keep VAT records for VAT-exempt sales

VAT exemption vs. 0% VAT

VAT exemption is not the same as 0% VAT. There’s no extra charge added to the original sales price of either zero-rated or VAT-exempt products, but there are a few major differences.

Technically, zero-rated products are still taxable, whereas VAT-exempt products aren’t. This means that, unlike sales of VAT-exempt products, sales of zero-rated goods and services are considered part of your taxable turnover. Furthermore, sales of zero-rated products should be recorded in your VAT accounts, whereas non-taxable sales should only be recorded in your regular company accounts.

VAT exemption for businesses

If a business only supplies goods or services that are exempt from VAT, it’s also considered to be exempt from VAT.

If a business is VAT-exempt, it can’t be registered for VAT. Like other businesses that aren’t registered for VAT, VAT-exempt companies:

  • Can’t charge VAT on any sales they make

  • Can’t reclaim VAT on any business expenses – even if you purchase taxable items and pay VAT

  • Don’t need to keep VAT records

  • Don’t need to submit VAT Returns

VAT partial exemption for businesses

In some circumstances, a business might be considered to be partially exempt from VAT. Partial VAT exemption applies to VAT-registered businesses that are registered for VAT and sell both taxable and VAT-exempt goods or services.

If your business is partially exempt from VAT, you can reclaim any VAT that’s incurred when producing or acquiring the VAT-exempt goods or services that you sell to customers.

Partially exempt businesses need to keep separate records for their VAT-exempt sales and provide details of how they calculated the VAT that they want to reclaim from HMRC.

VAT exemption for charities

Charities and non-profit organisations generally follow the same rules on VAT registration and VAT exemption as for-profit businesses and companies.

This means that charities with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold of £85,000 must register for VAT and that VAT-registered charities should charge VAT on any taxable goods and services that they sell.

This also means that charities that make no taxable sales are exempt and shouldn’t register for VAT. There are two main reasons why a charity would not have taxable sales:

1) The charity only sells VAT-exempt goods or services

2) The charity isn’t considered to be involved with any ‘business activities’

Examples of charity VAT exemption

A charity has runs a historical site as a tourist attraction. HMRC considers this to be a business activity. The charity has a taxable turnover of £300,000 a year, generated exclusively through the admission fees. The charity must therefore register for VAT and charge VAT on the entry price.

On the other hand, a charity provides sea-rescue services, which HMRC doesn’t consider to be business activities. The charity isn’t involved with any other business activities and is therefore exempt from VAT.

VAT exemption for charities vs. VAT relief for charities

VAT-exempt organisations still need to pay VAT on any taxable products they purchase from VAT-registered companies. However, in the UK, charities are eligible for VAT relief, which allows them to pay VAT at a reduced rate of 0% or 5% when they purchase certain taxable goods and services from companies that are registered for VAT.