Reciprocity Agreements and Why They Matter When Recovering VAT

Russell Hughes
June 15, 2022

Sovos recently hosted an online webinar on VAT recovery where we covered reciprocity agreements between the UK and EU Member States when making 13th Directive VAT refund claims. One of the questions that kept coming up is what are reciprocity agreements and why do they matter?

Reciprocity

When making 13th Directive refund claims, each EU Member State has different rules or conditions to meet before agreeing to a VAT refund. One of the conditions that EU Member States may require is a reciprocity agreement. A reciprocity agreement is a deal to reciprocate VAT refunds between two countries.

Therefore, VAT is only refundable when a similar tax is refundable for local businesses in the applicant’s country. For example, suppose a Spanish business was allowed to obtain a VAT refund in Norway through a similar scheme to the 13 Directive. In that case, Spain would likely have reciprocity with Norway and will allow the Norwegian businesses to make a 13th Directive Refund Claim in Spain.

There are currently around 19 EU Member States that require reciprocity agreements for non-EU businesses to make VAT refund claims. Of those, Greece and Slovenia currently only have reciprocity agreements with two countries (Norway and Switzerland), whilst Italy has three (Norway, Switzerland and Israel). When making EU VAT refund claims, businesses should review reciprocity and not assume they will automatically be approved.

UK businesses

Before Brexit, UK businesses could make VAT refund claims through the EU VAT Refund Directive (also known as the 8th Directive) which was built to allow reciprocity freedom for all EU Member States. However, post-Brexit, this mechanism for VAT refund claims no longer applied, and the UK fell within the 13th Directive Refund Scheme as a non-EU business.

Whilst the UK and EU have a Free Trade and Cooperation Agreement in place, there was no specific mention of reciprocity in VAT refund claims as these should be agreed between those particular EU Member States and the UK. Therefore, it may be more difficult for UK businesses, that make refund claims around the EU, to recover VAT incurred in some countries.

Regarding current reciprocity agreements with the UK, the only official announcements we have seen to date have been from Germany, Spain and Hungary. However, we are aware of ongoing discussions between the UK and other EU Member States.

HMRC states they will only refuse a claim if the reciprocal country has a scheme for refunding taxes but refuses to allow UK traders a refund. Therefore, HMRC is willing to allow VAT recovery in the UK for EU businesses providing UK businesses receive the same treatment as the EU. It would therefore be in the interests of EU Member States to allow VAT recovery for UK businesses for businesses in their own country to benefit from the same treatment.

Why does it matter?

Most EU Member States require reciprocity when making VAT refund claims. Therefore, the law of reciprocity is an integral factor when looking to make a VAT refund claim in any jurisdiction. It’s important to understand these reciprocity laws to prevent wasting time and money on making a VAT refund claim from a country that doesn’t allow it.

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Author

Russell Hughes

At Sovos, Russell works within the Consulting team providing UK and cross-border supply advice, detailed reviews on existing and new business activities and practical solutions to clients’ businesses. Prior to joining Sovos, Russell was the VAT manager of an award-winning tax team based in a firm of Chartered Accountants in the South East of England. Having initially begun his career in audit and accounts, he specialized in VAT in 2011, where he gained significant experience in cross-border issues, imports and exports, land and property, group registrations, partial exemption, HMRC enquiries and other complex VAT transactions. From June 2015, Russell was the sole VAT specialist in his previous company, where he led the firm’s VAT compliance and consultancy projects including all day-to-day VAT queries. Russell is also a member of the VAT Practitioners Group (VPG).
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