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A New EU Country Code on the Horizon for Northern Ireland

Gabriel Pezzato
September 1, 2020

Since 31 January 2020, the UK is officially no longer part of the EU but is considered a third country to the union although EU legislation will still apply to the country until the end of 2020. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the region will remain under EU VAT legislation when it comes to the supply of goods also after 1 January 2021. The EU Commission has proposed an amendment to the VAT Directive creating a new country code for Northern Ireland to be used in tax identification numbers of Northern Irish companies.

An overall obligation for EU taxpayers to use and perform supplies under an EU-approved tax ID number exists. Thus, applying EU law to supplies performed to/from Northern Ireland demands an EU-compatible VAT identification number. Currently, EU Member States use a prefix country code following the ISO 3166-1 standard that assigns the country code “GB” to the UK and Northern Ireland.

The new prefix for Northern Irish tax ID numbers

From 1 January 2021, the indiscriminate use of the “GB” prefix in VAT numbers may pose a problem for supplies of goods to/from Northern Ireland. From that date, intra-community supplies and acquisitions of goods to/from Northern Ireland will remain in the scope of the EU VAT law. Consequently, Northern Irish taxpayers must hold a specific EU VAT number to be identified as such under the European rules. Provided that the country code “GB” will be used by the UK and assigned according to British legislation, the EU Commission has proposed a new country code “XI” to be attributed as a prefix of Northern Irish tax ID numbers.

A valid EU tax identification performs many roles, such as ensuring (or facilitating) the correct tax and customs treatment for intra-community supplies. The VIES platform, that runs the EU VAT Information Exchange System, is an example of the importance the EU gives to valid tax ID numbers. To ensure parties to a transaction can check each other’s tax ID numbers and are eligible to exemptions on intra-community supplies, the EU has established the VIES system, which will likely be the first EU mechanism directly affected by the creation of the new Northern Irish country code.

Such a proposal from the EU Commission may impact Member States’ systems. Upon adoption, the new Directive will require Member States to quickly adjust their apparatus to process “XI” invoices from January 2021. Countries operating some degree of continuous transaction controls, such as Italy, Hungary, and Spain, may be expected to update their platforms to comply with the amendment.

Impact on accounting and ERP systems

If passed, the proposal will impact taxpayers’ accounting and ERP systems which will need to process and recognize the “XI” country code in issued and received invoices as a Northern Irish indicator. Moreover, many systems allow the use of user-assigned country codes in customized transaction flows. User-assigned country codes are ISO codes that are freely assigned by users and used at their discretion, for example flows between supported and non-supported countries within an ERP system. So far, “XI” has been a user-assigned country code. Consequently, the proposal may force many IT departments to change internal policies regulating the use of user-assigned country codes.

Tax departments must also be aware of the tax treatment of “XI” invoices, given that EU VAT law won’t apply to supplies of services performed to/from Northern Ireland, but only to supplies of goods. Consequently, companies must create internal flows to deter the use or validation of the “XI” country code in supplies of services if unaccompanied by a valid “GB” country code.

The Council of the European Union is expected to deliberate about the proposal next on 9 September.

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Author

Gabriel Pezzato

Gabriel Pezzato is a Senior Regulatory Counsel at Sovos. Based in Stockholm and originally from Brazil, Gabriel’s background is in tax, corporate and administrative law. Gabriel earned a Law degree and a specialization degree in Tax Law in his home country and has a master’s degree in International and European Tax Law from Uppsala University (Sweden).
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