VAT Return Filing in the UK: Steps & Deadlines Explained

This article delves into the intricacies of VAT return filing in the UK, providing businesses with a comprehensive guide on what it entails, why it's essential, who needs to file, key dates, the steps involved, common pitfalls, and the penalties for non-compliance.


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    Value Added Tax (VAT) is a consumption tax that is applied to the majority of products and services in the United Kingdom. Businesses play a crucial role in collecting this tax from clients and sending it to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Filing VAT returns is a necessary stage in this process.

    This article delves into the intricacies of VAT return filing in the UK, providing businesses with a comprehensive guide on what it entails, why it’s essential, who needs to file, key dates, the steps involved, common pitfalls, and the penalties for non-compliance.

    What is a VAT Return?

    A VAT return is a document that a company files with HMRC, usually once a quarter, summarizing the VAT it has charged on sales and paid on purchases. The return will indicate if HMRC payment is necessary or if the business is entitled to a refund. Essentially, it’s a way for businesses to either account for the VAT they owe or claim the VAT they have already paid on items and services that are pertinent to their operations. 

    Why is Filing VAT Returns Crucial for Companies?

    Filing VAT returns is essential for numerous reasons:

    1. Compliance with Legal Obligations: Businesses registered for VAT in the UK are legally required to file VAT returns. Failure to comply may result in penalties and legal issues.

    2. Financial Management: Regularly completing VAT returns helps businesses maintain accurate records and enhance their financial planning.

    3. Reclaiming VAT: Businesses can reclaim VAT paid on purchases, which can drastically lower their total tax obligation.

    4. Avoiding Penalties: Filing your VAT return on time and accurately helps you avoid the penalties and fines that HMRC imposes for incomplete or late filings.

    5. Maintaining Business Reputation: Compliance with tax regulations reflects positively on a business’s reputation, fostering trust among customers, suppliers, and investors.

    Who is Required to File VAT Returns in the UK?

    If a UK business’s taxable revenue exceeds the current VAT registration threshold of £90,000, it must register for VAT. Following registration, the company must send HMRC regular VAT returns. Nevertheless, a company might choose to register for VAT and assume the burden of filing returns even if its revenue is below the threshold.

    Key Dates and Deadlines for VAT Return Filing in the United Kingdom

    Understanding the deadlines for VAT return filing is essential to guarantee adherence and prevent fines. Typically, VAT returns are filed quarterly, and businesses have one calendar month and seven days from the conclusion of the VAT period to submit their return and pay any VAT due. For instance, you have until May 7th to submit your return and payment in the event your VAT period ends on March 31st.

    Businesses using the Annual Accounting Scheme or the Flat Rate Scheme may have different deadlines and payment schedules. It’s critical to understand the precise deadlines that apply to your company and to set reminders to avoid missing them.

    Steps to File a VAT Return in the UK

    Filing a VAT return involves several steps, which are outlined below:

      1. Gather Required Information

      Before filing your VAT return, collect all necessary information, including sales invoices, purchase invoices, and receipts for expenses.

      2. Calculate VAT

      Ascertain how much VAT you paid on purchases (input tax) and how much VAT you levied on sales (output tax). The difference between these amounts will determine whether you owe VAT to HMRC or are due a refund.

      3. Use Accounting Software

      HMRC mandates the use of Making Tax Digital (MTD) compatible software to send in VAT returns. Ensure your software is compliant and accurately records your VAT transactions.

      4. Log in to HMRC Online Account

      Access your HMRC online account using your Government Gateway user ID and password.

      5. Complete the VAT Return Form 

      Enter the required details into the online VAT return form, including total sales and purchases, VAT charged and paid, and any adjustments.

      6. Submit the Return

      Review the information carefully to ensure accuracy, then submit the VAT return to HMRC.

      7. Make Payment

      If you owe VAT, make the payment by the deadline using one of the approved payment methods, such as direct debit, bank transfer, or online payment through your HMRC account.

      Typical Errors to Avoid When Filing VAT Returns

      The process of filing VAT returns can be complicated, and companies frequently make mistakes that result in fines or problems with HMRC. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

        • Incorrect Calculations: Ensure all calculations are accurate and double-check figures before submitting the return.
        • Late Filing: To avoid penalties for late filing, complete your VAT return on time.
        • Incomplete Records: Keep comprehensive records of all sales and purchases to support the figures in your VAT return.
        • Ignoring VAT Schemes: Be aware of different VAT schemes (e.g., Flat Rate Scheme, Annual Accounting Scheme) and ensure you’re using the one most beneficial for your business.
        • Claiming Ineligible VAT: Only claim VAT on purchases that are eligible for VAT recovery. Personal expenses or items not related to business activities should not be included.

        Penalties and Fines for Late or Incorrect VAT Returns

        Companies which miss deadlines for filing their VAT reports could face fines and penalties from HMRC. The severity and frequency of the non-compliance will determine the modification of these sanctions.

        Common sanctions consist of:

          • Late Filing Penalties: If you file your VAT return late, you may incur a surcharge based on the amount of VAT due. Persistent late filings can lead to higher surcharges.
          • Inaccurate Returns: Penalties may apply if incorrect VAT returns are submitted. The kind and severity of the error determine the penalty amount, ranging from 0% to 100% of the VAT underpaid or overclaimed.
          • Failure to Register for VAT: If your business exceeds the VAT threshold and you fail to register, HMRC can impose a penalty based on the amount of VAT due since the date you should have registered.
          • Late Payment Penalties: You may be subject to late payment penalties and interest costs if you do not pay the VAT owed by the deadline.

          To avoid these penalties, ensure timely and accurate submission of VAT returns, and promptly address any errors or discrepancies.


          Filing VAT returns in the United Kingdom is a critical responsibility for VAT-registered businesses. It keeps finances stable, guarantees adherence to tax laws, and assists companies in recovering VAT on purchases. Through comprehension of the procedure, crucial dates, typical errors, and possible sanctions, enterprises may confidently handle the filing of VAT returns.

          OnDemand International can assist with your business registration in the UK and guide you through post-registration compliances, including VAT return filing. Contact us today to make sure your company maximizes its tax advantages and stays compliant.


          The VAT registration threshold in the UK is currently £90,000. If the taxable turnover of your company is more than this amount, you have to register for VAT.

          Most companies submit quarterly VAT returns. Businesses using the Annual Accounting Scheme, however, are able to file once a year.

          Yes, all VAT returns must be filed online using Making Tax Digital (MTD) compatible software.

          You should make the necessary corrections as soon as you discover a mistake on your VAT return. Depending on the nature of the error, you may need to inform HMRC and submit an amended return.

          Surcharges based on the amount of VAT owing may be imposed as penalties for filing VAT returns beyond the deadline. Surcharges may increase if late filings are consistently made.