Checking VAT numbers

I read a story about a woman who had not checked the VAT number of one of her foreign customers. When she informed HMRC that the customer’s VAT number was invalid, they raised an assessment against her and charged her penalties. How do I avoid this happening to me?

1st June 2012

It is important that you check the VAT number of your EU-based customers, as fraudsters are creating false or hijacking VAT numbers. Furthermore, HMRC may issue you with an assessment and misdeclaration penalties if you have incorrectly zero-rated a sale; which is what happened with the case you mentioned.

You can check VAT numbers by calling the HMRC helpline on 0845 010 9000.

Alternatively, there is an EU VAT number checker online. However, this database is only updated every month. Plus, the results simply tell you whether the VAT number is valid- it does not necessarily tell you who the VAT number belongs to.

Calling HMRC is preferable, because they can check the number given agrees to the business name and their data should be more current.

Dealing with foreign sales and purchases can be a complex area and I would encourage you to seek the advice of your local TaxAssist Accountant.

By Jo Nockels

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