For online businesses operating in the UK, registering for Value Added Tax (VAT) is a crucial step that ensures compliance with tax regulations and streamlines financial operations. Whilst VAT must be accounted for on sales, VAT registration allows e-commerce entrepreneurs to claim VAT on business expenses, manage their tax obligations effectively, and maintain a strong financial foundation. However, the process of VAT registration can be complex and overwhelming, especially for those new to the e-commerce landscape. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the steps involved in registering for VAT as an online business in the UK. From understanding eligibility requirements and gathering the necessary information to navigating the registration process and addressing common concerns, this article aims to provide clarity and empower online businesses to confidently register for VAT and embark on a successful financial journey. By the end of this guide, you will have a clear understanding of the VAT registration process, its benefits and drawbacks, and your obligations as a VAT-registered online business.

Section 1: VAT Registration Process and Requirements

Registering for VAT as an online business in the UK requires a thorough understanding of the process and the specific requirements involved. In this section, we will delve into the key aspects of the VAT registration process, including eligibility criteria and the information you need to gather.

Determine Eligibility: Before proceeding with the VAT registration process, it is important to determine your eligibility. Generally, businesses must register for VAT if their annual taxable turnover exceeds the VAT threshold, which is currently £85,000. However, it is also possible to voluntarily register for VAT even if your turnover falls below this threshold. Understanding your eligibility will help you determine the necessary steps to take.

Required Information: To ensure a smooth VAT registration process, it is crucial to gather the required information beforehand. Some of the key information you will need includes:

  • Tax Reference or National Insurance Number: You will need either your personal tax reference or National Insurance number for the registration process.
  • Basic Company Details: Registered office, company number, and contact details, SIC code (which you would have selected when the company was registered)
  • Business Bank Account Details: Your business bank account details as they will be required during registration.
  • Records of Related Companies: If you have owned any other businesses within the past two years, make sure to have the relevant records available.
  • Turnover Figures: Calculate your annual taxable turnover to determine whether you meet the VAT registration threshold.
  • You will also be asked for the start date of registration and be given the option to select your VAT quarter ends. We would always recommend making the quarter end coincide with the company or business financial year end.

By collecting and organizing this information in advance, you will be well-prepared to proceed with the VAT registration process smoothly.

Online Registration: Registering for VAT online is the most common and convenient method for online businesses. The HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website provides an online platform where you can complete the registration process. It is recommended to register online unless you have specific circumstances that require an alternative approach.

To register online, follow these steps:

  • Visit the HMRC website and navigate to the online services page.
  • Sign in with your Government Gateway ID and password. If you don’t have one, you can create a new account.
  • Once logged in, select “Register for HMRC taxes” under “Your HMRC services”.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions provided by HMRC to complete the VAT registration process.

Online registration offers a streamlined and efficient way to register for VAT, allowing you to progress through the process at your own pace.

Paper Registration: In certain circumstances, you may need to register for VAT using a paper application form. This can be the case if you are applying for a “registration exception,” joining the Agricultural Flat Rate Scheme, or requiring separate VAT numbers for different business units or divisions. If any of these scenarios apply to your business, you can download the VAT1 form from the HMRC website, fill it out, and submit it as instructed. 99.9% of registrations can be done online.

However, it is important to note that even if you begin the registration process with a paper form, you will still need to complete the registration online. HMRC requires all newly VAT-registered businesses to submit their VAT returns and payments electronically.

By understanding the VAT registration process and ensuring you have the necessary information at hand, you can navigate the process smoothly and confidently. The next section will discuss the approval process for VAT registration and the subsequent obligations as a VAT-registered online business.

Section 2: VAT Registration Approval

Once you have completed the VAT registration process, the next step is to await approval from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This section will guide you through the VAT registration approval process and provide an overview of what to expect.

After submitting your VAT registration application, HMRC will review the information provided and assess your eligibility for VAT registration. The approval process typically takes a few weeks, although the exact timeframe may vary.

During the approval process, HMRC may contact you for additional information or clarification if necessary. It is important to respond promptly and provide any requested details to ensure a smooth and timely approval. If the timeframes for providing any further information lapse, you will have to start the whole process again.

Once your VAT registration is approved, you will receive a VAT certificate from HMRC. This certificate serves as confirmation that your business is officially registered for VAT. It contains essential information, including your unique VAT number and the date of your registration.

Upon receiving the VAT certificate, it is essential to review the information and ensure its accuracy. If you notice any discrepancies or errors, it is recommended to contact HMRC promptly to rectify the situation.

The VAT certificate is a valuable document that should be kept securely and shared with relevant parties when required. It is common for customers and business partners (e.g. Amazon) to request your VAT number for invoicing and other official purposes. By including your VAT number on invoices and other documents, you can enhance the transparency and credibility of your business.

Once your VAT registration is approved, you will need to fulfill certain obligations as a VAT-registered business. The following section will outline the key compliance requirements and obligations that you need to be aware of as a VAT-registered online business.

Section 3: VAT Compliance and Obligations

As a VAT-registered online business in the UK, it is crucial to understand and fulfill your compliance requirements and obligations. This section will outline the key aspects of VAT compliance and the obligations you need to adhere to.

Adding VAT to Prices and Record-Keeping: Once registered for VAT, you are required to add VAT to the prices you charge your customers for taxable goods and services. The standard VAT rate in the UK is currently 20%, but certain goods and services may be subject to different rates or qualify for zero-rating. It is important to accurately calculate and display the VAT-inclusive prices to your customers.

Additionally, as a VAT-registered business, you must maintain detailed records of your sales and purchases. These records should include VAT invoices, which provide evidence of the VAT charged to customers and the VAT paid to suppliers. It is essential to keep these records accurate, complete, and easily accessible for a minimum of six years.

VAT Returns and Payments: VAT-registered businesses are required to submit periodic VAT returns to HMRC. The frequency of VAT returns depends on the size of your business, with most businesses filing quarterly returns. However, eligible businesses may have the option to submit annual VAT returns. Our recommendation is not to take this option, it doesn’t really achieve anything (you still have to pay quarterly based on estimates) and whilst submitting one return instead of 4 each year might sound attractive, it discourages regular, accurate record keeping and can leave you with a mountain to climb at the end of the year.

When submitting your VAT return, you need to report the total VAT charged to your customers and the VAT you have paid on your purchases. The difference between these amounts determines the VAT payable to HMRC or the VAT refundable to you. It is important to accurately calculate and report these figures to ensure compliance.

Alongside submitting your VAT return, you are also required to make VAT payments to HMRC. The payment due dates align with the VAT return filing deadlines, and it is crucial to make these payments on time to avoid penalties or interest charges.

Digital Record-Keeping and Making Tax Digital (MTD): HMRC has introduced the Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative, which requires businesses to keep digital records and use approved software to submit VAT returns. This means that VAT-registered businesses need to maintain their records in a digital format and use compatible accounting software for record-keeping and VAT submissions.

Digital record-keeping ensures accurate and efficient VAT compliance while reducing the likelihood of errors. It is important to select suitable accounting software that aligns with the MTD requirements and enables seamless VAT management. We use Xero.

Penalties and Inspections: HMRC conducts periodic inspections and may review your VAT records to ensure compliance. It is important to keep your records organized, up-to-date, and readily accessible to facilitate any potential inspections. Failing to maintain accurate records or comply with VAT regulations can result in penalties, fines, or other enforcement actions from HMRC.

By understanding and fulfilling your VAT compliance requirements and obligations, you can ensure smooth operations and avoid potential issues with HMRC. The next section will explore the option of voluntary VAT registration and its potential benefits for your online business.

Section 4: Voluntary VAT Registration

While VAT registration becomes mandatory once your annual taxable turnover exceeds the VAT threshold, there are instances where businesses may choose to voluntarily register for VAT, even if their turnover falls below the threshold. This section will explore the concept of voluntary VAT registration and its potential benefits for your online business.

Benefits of Voluntary VAT Registration: Opting for voluntary VAT registration can offer several advantages for your online business. However if your products are all standard rated (i.e. 20% VAT must be accounted for), you’re profit making and your customers are consumers then you are going to be worse of:

  • Reclaiming VAT on Business Expenses: As a VAT-registered business, you can claim VAT on eligible business expenses, such as supplies, equipment, and services. This allows you to recover VAT paid and potentially reduce your overall business costs. If your customers are businesses or your products are zero rated then VAT registration will save you money.
  • Enhancing Business Reputation: Displaying your VAT registration number on official documents, such as invoices and letters, can instill trust and confidence in your brand. It signals to customers and business partners that you are a legitimate and established entity.
  • Improved Financial Management: VAT registration requires businesses to maintain accurate and detailed records, promoting better financial management practices. By closely monitoring your accounts and VAT-related transactions, you can minimize accounting errors and make informed financial decisions.

Considerations for Voluntary Registration: Before deciding on voluntary VAT registration, consider the following factors:

  • Impact on Pricing Strategy: Registering for VAT may affect your pricing strategy. You will need to account for the VAT added to your prices and how it may impact your customer base and market positioning.
  • Administrative Responsibilities: VAT registration comes with additional administrative responsibilities, such as filing VAT returns and maintaining VAT records. Assess your capacity to handle these tasks or consider utilizing accounting software or professional services to assist you.
  • Threshold Monitoring: If your business is close to the VAT threshold, voluntary registration may be a proactive approach to ensure a smooth transition once you exceed the threshold. Regularly monitor your turnover and reassess the need for voluntary registration. Note that your income is not the value of your Amazon settlements received into your bank as these are after the deduction of Amazon fees.
  • Financial Impact: Evaluate the potential financial implications of voluntary registration, including the costs of accounting software, professional assistance, and the potential impact on cash flow due to VAT payments.

It is recommended to consult with a qualified accountant or tax advisor to assess your specific business circumstances and determine whether voluntary VAT registration is suitable for your online business.


1. When do I need to register for VAT?

You must register for VAT if your annual taxable turnover exceeds the VAT threshold, which is currently £85,000. Voluntary registration is also an option.

2. Who can register for VAT?

Any business that meets the eligibility criteria can register for VAT, whether mandatory or voluntarily.

3. How long does it take to register for VAT?

The registration process usually takes a few weeks, but the timeframe may vary.

4. How much does it cost to register for VAT?

The process of registering for VAT on the HMRC website is free. However, there may be additional costs for accounting software or professional assistance.

5. Can I register for VAT without an accountant?

Yes, you can register for VAT without an accountant. However, professional advice can be valuable to ensure compliance and make informed decisions.

6. How much turnover do I need to register for VAT?

The current VAT threshold is £85,000 of annual taxable turnover. If your turnover exceeds this amount, VAT registration is mandatory.

7. What happens if I don’t register for VAT?

Failure to register for VAT when required can lead to penalties, fines, and other enforcement actions by HMRC.

By understanding the potential benefits and considering the relevant factors, you can make an informed decision regarding voluntary VAT registration for your online business.

Navigating the world of VAT registration and compliance can be intricate, but you don’t have to face it alone. At Elver E-Commerce Accountants, we specialize in providing expert VAT accountancy services tailored specifically to small and medium-sized e-commerce businesses in the UK.

Our team of experienced chartered accountants understands the unique challenges and complexities of the e-commerce industry. With our in-depth knowledge of VAT regulations, international VAT and GST exposure, and expertise in working with online businesses, we can provide you with the support and guidance you need to ensure seamless VAT registration and compliance.

Don’t let VAT registration become a daunting task. Let us handle the complexities while you focus on growing your online business. Contact us today to discuss your specific needs and learn how our tailored accounting services can benefit your e-commerce venture. Together, we can navigate the VAT landscape and unlock the full potential of your business.


Read related articles: