Case Study: DIY Home Builders VAT Reclaim

The DIY House Builders VAT scheme is available for people who build their own homes to reclaim the VAT incurred on their building costs. This scheme puts self-builders in the same position as people who buy new houses from housebuilders in that the costs are zero rated for VAT.

In its guidance to applicants HMRC sets out a strict and rigorous application process for each applicant to follow in order to be successful.

Two important conditions for making a claim stand out:

  • Only one claim can be made per project; and
  • The reclaim application must be submitted within 3 months of the building being “completed”.

Completion certificates are mentioned several times on the application form (VAT431NB) and there is a section outlining their importance in the accompanying notes and when completing a claim form most people would consider that the date of the completion certificate was the relevant date for the clock to start ticking on making a claim. So in an ideal situation, a property will be completed on time and on budget, a completion certificate will be issued, a family will move into the house and an application to recover the VAT will be dispatched to HMRC within 3 months seeking a reclaim of the VAT on the project.

In recent years, we have become aware that HMRC has rejected several claims where the builder and family have moved into the property prior to the work being fully completed. These claims have been rejected even where a completion certificate has been issued and the reclaim application is submitted within 3 months of the certificate date. Within the application form there is a question which asks when the property was first occupied which then leads to the initial challenge by HMRC. Given the strict timescale for submitting claims, it can render some claims “out of time” and self-builders have lost out on the VAT they paid on the construction of their homes.

We recently assisted one DIY builder who was faced with this very issue.  Due to financial and extreme economic pressures our client had to move into the property midway though the project. The house was built, however several rooms were incomplete but he was left with no option to move firstly into the garage building of the property and then into the main house and then continue work when he had time and budget to undertake the additional work.

In this particular case, a completion certificate was issued on 26 May 2017 and a claim was submitted on 10 August 2017 (within the 3-month timescale), however the claim was rejected because HMRC considered that the building was completed well before the completion certificate was issued.

We advised our client through an independent review process and then Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) but were not able to change HMRC’s position on the date when they considered that the building was complete. HMRC’s position was that the building was complete either in December 2008 when the property first started to be occupied; or, in June 2016 when the last invoice was received.

Our client was brave enough to take his case to the VAT Tribunal and was successful in what was a significant personal (and financial) triumph.  What was most interesting about the Tribunal judgment was the Chairman’s comments on what the law means by “completion” (rather than HMRC’s definition which was relied on throughout the appeal process).

The VAT legislation explains that specific documents are required in order to make a claim; namely, a certificate of completion from a local authority or other documentary evidence of completion of the building. The Tribunal Chairman goes on to describe that having this rule gives clear guidance for both a claimant and HMRC on where the 3-month clock starts clicking for a DIY claim. The Chairman ruled that it is only where there is no certificate in place that other completion date alternatives can be given. This may apply where a claimant wants to submit a claim well in advance of a formal completion certificate being issued (which would negate his ability to make a further claim). Tellingly, the judgment goes on to point out that, based on the statute, neither the date of occupation or the date of the last item of expenditure should be used as alternatives to determine the completion date, although HMRC relied on these in this case.

A lot of the discussion during the Tribunal revolved around the clarification of what the legislation means to be ‘complete’. On this point the Tribunal found in our client’s favour and ruled that the meaning of ‘completion’ is to be given its plain meaning and can be defined by the issuing of a certificate of completion as this is a clear-cut definition. The Tribunal also rejected HMRC’s argument that the primary date of completion was the date of the last invoice included in the refund as it is considered that DIY new builds often occurs in bursts of activity then periods of inactivity. The tribunal also noted that from the photographic evidence submitted, there were still several rooms of the property ‘incomplete’ at the date of sale.

Conclusion

This case has helped highlight how strict and compliant DIY housebuilders must be in order to be successful with their claims. It also highlights that HMRC can be challenged where taxpayers are denied claims. Unfortunately, the costs associated with going to VAT Tribunal often outweigh the VAT at stake, so taxpayers are often in the invidious position of having to accept HMRC’s position. In this case, our client was confident enough to represent himself clearly worked in his favour with Tribunal Chairman – a position that the majority of laypeople would want to face!

HMRC has decided not to appeal this case, which is a relief for the taxpayer, however it still leaves legal uncertainty. As this is a Tribunal decision it cannot be relied on by other taxpayers in future cases (although the Tribunal Chairman’s comments on “completion” are very telling).

We would recommend that anyone who has had recent DIY claims rejected by HMRC to speak to a VAT adviser to see if it may be possible to appeal the decision.

TC07240: STUART FARQUHARSON

[2019] UKFTT 425 (TC)