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Director Huge Ecommerce VAT Changes In 2021

Tony Dhanjal

Ecommerce VAT Changes

This Article Contains

Value added tax (VAT) has never been the most straight forward of taxes to understand and although the are many benefits of VAT registration, many businesses dread the thought of having to register for VAT and file quarterly VAT returns. Ecommerce VAT registered businesses are no exception to that rule. In fact ecommerce VAT is often complicated further by the relative ease with which they are able to trade with customers and suppliers overseas.

Unfortunately 2021 will not be remembered as the year where those complications were forgotten. In fact 2021 is going to be a somewhat transitory year for VAT and in particular ecommerce VAT. 

Throughout the year we will have to deal with the impact of 2 significant updates to the way ecommerce VAT works. The first set of changes have been in the pipeline for some time and were planned prior to the UK’s decision to leave the EU (we can’t blame Brexit for everything). 

Then of course Brexit has resulted in a second set of changes that have also come into force and will need to be digested and understood by UK ecommerce VAT registered businesses. 

In this article we will look at the changes to VAT in 2021 and in particular how they will impact our ecommerce VAT registered clients.

Throughout the article we will tend to focus on those who sell goods rather than services. We will also first look in some detail at how the changes will impact those operating under a dropshipping model before we look at the wide sweeping changes.

UK Changes v EU Changes 

As previously mentioned, some of the changes to the ecommerce VAT system we are seeing in 2021 were planned long before any decision was made on Brexit. Others are a direct result of the UK’s decision to leave the EU

The changes planned prior to Brexit were designed to directly target ecommerce businesses and were sweeping changes planned across the EU and UK. The UK still went ahead with the changes on 1st January 2021 but Covid-19 has somewhat complicated the matter further as it forced the EU to delay their implementation of the new rules until 1st July 2021.

The result is that we have a 6 month period of differing systems to navigate plus we will need to learn some rules only for them to be replaced in 6 months time.

The good news is that the first 6 months of the year should be the most difficult with things getting slightly easier in the second half of the year as that’s when the EU will introduce its one stop shop (OSS) which can be utilised by UK sellers who sell into the EU. Essentially this will allow UK sellers to register for VAT in one EU country but sell into many. Unfortunately this wont apply until 1st July 2021 and prior to this your business may need to register for VAT in every EU country it sells into.

Below we have set out how this may impact a variety of different businesses but if your setup hasn’t been covered then feel free to get in touch.


For our ecommerce clients who operate under a dropshipping model there are some important changes to take note of.

The change that will impact the most ecommerce businesses is that from1st January 2021when dropshipping goods from outside the UK (including the EU) where the customer is based in the UK, VAT will now be payable at the point of sale. Previously when dropshipping from third countries the VAT was usually collected at the point of entry which usually involved the customer paying the VAT charge where necessary.

Now if you operate an online store such as shopify then you will need to account for VAT in the sale price. Essentially dropshippers will face the choice of increasing their prices by up to 20% or taking a large hit to their profit margin. For some products where the cost cannot be passed onto the customer and the margin is already low this may create products that just aren’t viable for dropshipping anymore.

There have also been changes to the VAT registration requirements. Previously dropshippers followed the same registrations requirements and thresholds as other businesses (VAT taxable turnover above £85,000) in the trailing 12 months results in compulsory registration). As most dropshipping arrangements were outside the scope of VAT many dropshippers were able to avoid UK VAT registration altogether.

Since 1st January 2021 any UK or Overseas businesses making sales directly to UK customers in this way will automatically need to register for UK VAT however this does not apply to those selling via an online marketplace like Amazon, Ebay or Etsy.

Below we have summarised a few different examples and how the VAT now works in 2021. The table shows the impact on dropshipping businesses depending on where the goods are being shipped from and where they are being shipped to. It considers the ecommerce VAT implications in both the UK and the EU but note that it does not consider requirements outside of this for rest of world countries.

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EC Sales List Removal

The EC sales list was a document filed by VAT registered EU businesses trading within the EU to ensure cross border sales were registered correctly. Since the UK is no longer part of the EU, this form will no longer be used by UK businesses. Our ecommerce VAT registered clients may be glad to see the back of this administrative burden.

The deadline for the final EC sales list submission for sales made into the EU prior to 1st January 2021 was 21 January 2021.

Low Value Consignment Relief Removed

The low value consignment relief (LVCR) previously meant that any goods imported into the UK with a value less than £15 were exempt from both VAT and customs duty. Goods valued between £15 and £135 were subject to import VAT but were still exempt from customs duty.

Since 1st January 2021 the LVCR has been removed and and goods entering the UK with a value up to £135 will now be subject to domestic VAT rather than import VAT. The main result of this is that VAT will now be collected at the point of sale rather at the point of import like it was previously.

In reality this will involve the store or online market place collecting VAT when the sale is made. For our clients who operate their own store where goods are shipped from outside the UK this means you will need to collect VAT at the point of sale and can no longer rely on VAT being collected at the point of entry for goods with a value under £135.

For many sellers this will leave them with the difficult decision of increasing prices by 20% and becoming less competitive or swallowing the new VAT liability themselves and seriously impacting the profit margin.

EU Distance Selling Thresholds

Previously each country within the EU had it’s own distance selling threshold which meant that UK sellers sending goods to customers in the EU didn’t need to register for VAT in that country until they exceeded the threshold.

From 1st January 2021 these thresholds no longer apply to UK to EU sales and instead goods sent to the EU from the UK will be subject to VAT at the point of import which usually involves the customer paying the liability before the goods are released to them.

It is important to make customers in the EU aware of this as a surprise ecommerce VAT charge or delays are likely to reflect badly on your business.

Postponed Import VAT Accounting

Previously when a business was importing goods from overseas, the business would pay import VAT at the point of entry. Assuming the business is VAT registered then it would then be able to reclaim this by including the amount on the next VAT return.

From 1st January 2021 postponed import VAT accounting has been introduced which can be used in situations where:

  • The goods have been imported for business use 
  • The business has an EORI number and displays this on the customs form
  • The business has a VAT number and displays this on the customs form
This scheme is optional and clearly will not apply to all imports for example those without an EORI or VAT number will not be able to use it. Imports with a value under £135 will also not qualify as we have discussed the treatment for these items earlier in the article (VAT will have already been collected at point of sale).

What Does All Of This Mean For My Business?

Any UK business trading across borders is likely to experience some change to the way they operate in 2021 as we start implement big changes to the ecommerce VAT system.
We highly recommend that you speak to an expert where your business is impacted by the changes discussed above. Trying to navigate the red tape blindly could end up being costly so it is better to take the time and understand what your business needs to do in order to comply.
My Business Doesn’t Trade Overseas
For our ecommerce friends who send products from the UK to UK customers there will be no impact or change to the previous processes. You will still work to the same £85,000 VAT threshold and then charge VAT where applicable at the rate applicable to that product.
It is still good practice to be aware of the rule changes even if it’s just to understand how they will impact your competition.

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Practice based accountant with over 10 years experience, specialising in SME's, Freelancers and Personal Tax. "I take pride in proactively recognising tax planning opportunities on behalf of clients to help them operate more efficiently."

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