VAT for Charities and Non-profit Organisations


If you’re running a charity or a non-profit, navigating the intricacies of Value Added Tax (VAT) can be a complex task. VAT, omnipresent on almost everything we buy, can significantly impact your organisation’s finances. That’s where this guide comes in. We’re here to demystify how VAT works, particularly in the context of your charity or non-profit, and provide you with the tools you need to manage it confidently. We’ll also delve into the guidelines provided by the UK Charity Commission, ensuring your organisation remains compliant while optimising its financial operations.

Understanding VAT Registration For Charities

Understanding VAT Registration For Charities
Guidelines For VAT Must Always Be Followed

VAT registration for charities is a crucial aspect to understand. If your charity’s VATable turnover exceeds the threshold of £85,000, registration with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) becomes mandatory. However, even if your turnover is below this threshold, you might choose to register voluntarily. This decision could be beneficial, especially if your charity makes zero-rated supplies, as it allows you to reclaim VAT on your costs.

Once registered, your charity will have certain obligations. These include charging VAT on your VATable sales, submitting VAT returns usually every three months, and keeping accurate VAT records. It’s important to note that failure to meet these obligations can result in penalties from HMRC.

Remember, VAT registration for charities isn’t just about compliance; it’s also an opportunity to reclaim VAT and reduce your costs. Therefore, understanding the process and the implications is key to making the most of your charity’s VAT status.

UK Charity Commission Guidelines and VAT

The UK Charity Commission, the regulator for charities in England and Wales, provides comprehensive guidelines that charities must adhere to, including aspects related to VAT. Understanding these guidelines is crucial for charities to ensure they remain compliant while optimising their financial operations.

The Charity Commission doesn’t directly set VAT rules – this falls under the purview of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). However, the Commission’s guidelines do touch upon the importance of understanding and correctly handling VAT as part of a charity’s financial management.

The Commission emphasises that trustees have a duty to act prudently in all matters relating to the charity, and this includes the management of VAT. Mismanagement of VAT can lead to financial penalties, which can impact a charity’s resources and reputation.

The Commission also advises charities to seek professional advice if they are unsure about VAT. This is particularly important because VAT for charities can be complex, with different rates applying to different types of income and expenditure, and special VAT schemes and reliefs available.

For more detailed information, charities should refer to the UK Charity Commission’s guidance and consult with a VAT specialist or accountant to ensure they are meeting all VAT obligations and making the most of the reliefs available.

VAT Excemption For Charities

Now, you might be wondering, “Does my charity have to deal with VAT?” The short answer is yes. Charities aren’t exempt from VAT. If your charity’s VATable sales go over a certain threshold, you’ll need to register for VAT. But don’t worry, we’ve got a whole section on how to register for VAT coming up.

Even if your VATable sales are below the threshold, you might choose to register for VAT anyway. Why? Because it can allow you to reclaim VAT on your costs. This can be a real game-changer, especially if you’re buying a lot of goods or services for your charity.

VAT Registration For Charities And Non-profits

VAT Registration For Charities And Non-profits
Understanding VAT Registration Is An Important Part Of Running A Charity Or Non-profit

So, you’ve decided to register for VAT. Great! But how do you do it? The process is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to apply to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and they’ll give you a VAT registration number. Once you’ve got that, you’ll start charging VAT on your goods and services, and you can reclaim VAT on your purchases.

But remember, registering for VAT isn’t just about getting some money back. It also comes with responsibilities. You’ll need to keep track of your VATable sales, submit VAT returns, and make sure you’re charging the right amount of VAT. And if you’re dealing with e-commerce, things can get a bit more complicated. But don’t worry, we’ll cover VAT for e-commerce in a later section.

One more thing: Brexit has changed some of the rules around VAT, especially if you’re buying or selling goods or services from or to the EU. We’ll touch on this in a later section, too. For now, just keep in mind that VAT is a bit of a moving target, and it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest changes.

VAT Reliefs For Charities

Navigating the landscape of VAT for charities can be complex, but understanding the special rules and VAT reliefs available can significantly reduce your charity’s VAT obligations. For instance, certain goods and services, such as medical supplies or rescue equipment, can be charged at a reduced or even zero rate of VAT.

Consider a charity that provides medical aid. The medical supplies they purchase could potentially be zero-rated, meaning no VAT is charged on these items. Similarly, a charity involved in rescue operations could benefit from zero-rated VAT on rescue vehicles. These reliefs can substantially ease the financial burden on your charity.

However, it’s crucial to remember that not all purchases qualify for these reliefs. Moreover, to avail of the reduced or zero rate, you’ll typically need to furnish proof of your charity’s status. Therefore, investing time in understanding VAT for charities and the associated rules can ensure you’re not overlooking any potential savings.

Reclaiming VAT

A significant advantage of VAT registration for charities is the ability to reclaim VAT paid on purchases, a process known as a VAT refund. This involves meticulously tracking your VATable purchases and incorporating them in your VAT return.

Let’s say your charity purchases office equipment for £1200, inclusive of 20% VAT. The VAT portion of this purchase is £200, which you can potentially reclaim, effectively reducing your cost to £1000.

However, caution is required as not all VAT is reclaimable. Purchases for personal use, not related to your charity, are not eligible for VAT reclaims. Furthermore, inaccuracies in VAT calculations can lead to liabilities with HMRC. Therefore, maintaining precise records and verifying your calculations is crucial in managing VAT for charities

VAT and E-Commerce

VAT and E-Commerce
The Rules On VAT For Charities When It Involves E-Commerce Can Be Quite Difficult To Understand

In today’s digital world, more and more charities are turning to e-commerce to raise funds and sell goods or services. But dealing with VAT in the online world can be a bit tricky.

The basic rules are the same: if you’re selling goods or services online, you’ll need to charge VAT just like you would for offline sales. But there are some additional considerations to keep in mind. For example, if you’re selling to customers in other countries, you might need to deal with different VAT rates. And if you’re selling digital services, there are special rules you’ll need to follow.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll dive deeper into the world of e-commerce and VAT in a later section. For now, just remember that if you’re involved in e-commerce, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your VAT obligations.

Avoiding Common VAT Mistakes As A Charity Or Non-profit

VAT can be a complex area for charities and non-profits, and mistakes can have significant implications. Not only can they lead to financial penalties, but they can also impact the trust and confidence of your donors, beneficiaries, and the public. Therefore, understanding common VAT mistakes and how to avoid them is crucial for the financial health and reputation of your charity.

One of the most common mistakes charities make is not registering for VAT when they should. If your charity’s VATable sales exceed the threshold, registration is mandatory. Failing to register can result in penalties from HMRC, and it can also mean missing out on reclaiming VAT on your costs. This can significantly impact your charity’s budget and its ability to deliver services.

Another common mistake is charging the wrong rate of VAT or misunderstanding the VAT reliefs available to charities. This can lead to over or undercharging VAT, both of which can have serious consequences. Overcharging VAT can lead to financial loss for your charity and can damage your relationship with your supporters. Undercharging, on the other hand, can result in owing back VAT to HMRC, which can put a strain on your charity’s finances.

Record-keeping errors are another common pitfall. Accurate and complete records are essential for submitting correct VAT returns and for demonstrating transparency and accountability to your stakeholders. Inaccurate records can lead to incorrect VAT returns, resulting in financial penalties and potential damage to your charity’s reputation.

Finally, if your charity is involved in e-commerce, it’s crucial to understand the VAT rules in this area. Incorrectly handling VAT on online sales can lead to financial penalties and can complicate your charity’s financial management. Moreover, with the changes brought about by Brexit, the rules around e-commerce and VAT have become even more complex, making it even more important to stay up-to-date.

In conclusion, avoiding these common VAT mistakes is crucial for maintaining the financial health and reputation of your charity and so it’s worth investing the time and resources to understand the rules and keep accurate records.

VAT And Brexit: What Charities Need To Know

Brexit has brought about significant changes in many areas, and VAT is no exception. For charities, these changes can have a big impact, especially if you buy or sell goods or services from or to the EU. Understanding these changes and how they affect your charity is crucial to avoid unexpected costs and complications.

One of the key changes is that the rules around importing and exporting goods have changed. If your charity imports goods from the EU, you might now be required to pay VAT at the point of import. However, you may be able to reclaim this VAT, depending on the nature of the goods and how they’re used by your charity.

Similarly, if your charity exports goods to the EU, you’ll need to understand the new rules around export VAT.

How to Register for VAT: A Step-by-Step Guide for Charities

If your charity’s VATable sales are over the threshold, or if you decide to register voluntarily, you’ll need to apply to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for VAT registration. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:

  1. Check your VATable sales: Before you start, make sure you know your VATable sales. Remember, this includes the total value of everything your charity sells that isn’t exempt from VAT or outside the scope of VAT.
  2. Apply to HMRC: You can apply for VAT registration online through the HMRC website. You’ll need to provide information about your charity and its activities, so make sure you have all the necessary details to hand.
  3. Receive your VAT registration number: Once your application is approved, HMRC will send you a VAT registration number. You’ll need this number to charge VAT and submit VAT returns.
  4. Start charging VAT: Once you’re registered, you’ll need to start charging VAT on your VATable sales. Make sure you’re charging the correct rate, and remember to include VAT in the price of your goods or services.
  5. Keep records and submit VAT returns: As a VAT-registered charity, you’ll need to keep accurate records of your VATable sales and purchases. You’ll also need to submit VAT returns to HMRC, usually every three months.

Remember, registering for VAT is a big step, and it comes with responsibilities. Make sure you understand what’s involved.

VAT Calculations for Charities

Understanding how to calculate VAT is crucial for charities. Whether you’re determining how much VAT to charge on your goods or services, or figuring out how much VAT you can reclaim, accurate calculations are key.

The basic formula for calculating VAT is straightforward: you simply multiply the cost of your goods or services by the VAT rate. For example, if you’re selling a product for £100 and the VAT rate is 20%, the VAT would be £20.

But remember, not all goods and services are subject to the standard rate. Some may be charged at a reduced rate or zero rate, and some may be exempt. Make sure you’re using the correct rate for your calculations.

Also, keep in mind that if you make a mistake in your VAT calculations, you could end up owing money to HMRC. So, it’s important to double-check your figures and keep accurate records.

VAT Refunds for Charities

One of the benefits of being VAT registered is the ability to reclaim VAT on your purchases. This is known as a VAT refund. To claim a refund, you’ll need to include the VAT you’ve paid on your purchases in your VAT return.

However, not all VAT can be reclaimed. Generally, you can only reclaim VAT on purchases that are directly related to your VATable sales. For example, if you buy office supplies for your charity, you can usually reclaim the VAT. But if you buy something for personal use, you can’t reclaim the VAT.

Also, remember that you can only claim a VAT refund if you have a valid VAT invoice for your purchase. So, it’s important to keep all your invoices and receipts.

Claiming VAT refunds can help reduce your charity’s costs and free up funds for your charitable activities. But it’s important to understand the rules and make sure you’re claiming correctly.

Conclusion: Navigating VAT for Charities and Non-Profits

VAT can be a complex area for charities and non-profits, but with a solid understanding of the rules and careful record-keeping, it’s possible to navigate successfully. Whether you’re registering for VAT, calculating VAT on your sales, or claiming VAT refunds, the key is to stay informed and seek professional advice when needed.

Remember, while VAT can seem daunting, it’s also an area where you can make significant savings for your charity. So, don’t be afraid to dive in and learn more about how VAT works. With the right knowledge and tools, you can turn VAT from a challenge into an opportunity for your charity.


Does VAT apply to charities?

Yes, VAT applies to charities. However, certain goods and services may be eligible for reduced or zero-rate VAT.

What is the VAT threshold for charities?

The VAT threshold for charities is the same as for businesses, currently £85,000 of taxable turnover in a rolling 12-month period.

Can charities reclaim VAT on Building Work?

Yes, charities can reclaim VAT on building work if the construction is for a relevant charitable purpose.

Do charities pay VAT on sponsorship?

Yes, charities usually have to pay VAT on sponsorship as it’s considered a business activity.

How Do You Find Out If A Charity Is Exempt or NonExempt?

You can check a charity’s exempt or non-exempt status by referring to the Charity Commission’s register or contacting HMRC.

Do charities pay VAT on events?

Yes, charities typically pay VAT on events, but certain exemptions or reliefs may apply depending on the nature of the event.

Do charities pay VAT on printing?

Yes, charities generally pay VAT on printing, but there are exceptions for certain types of printed materials.

Do charities pay VAT on gas?

Yes, charities pay VAT on gas, but they may qualify for a reduced rate if the gas is used for non-business charitable activities.