VAT in the Digital Age: VAT treatment of the platform economy

Luca Clivati
December 21, 2022

The European Commission’s  “VAT in the Digital Age” proposal brings significant modifications to the VAT treatment of the platform economy related to the operators in the short-term accommodation (max. of 45 days) and passenger transport services.

VAT treatment of the platform economy

It is worth mentioning that the ‘VAT treatment of the platform economy’ only relates to the supply of certain services via a platform. There are also a set of e-commerce rules related to the supply of goods via platforms.

The rise of the platform economy business model has triggered new challenges for the VAT system. As per the view of the EU Commission, one of these problems is VAT inequality that can be experienced if we look at:

  • The accommodation platform model that the EU Commission sees as competing directly with the hotel sector direct distribution model or
  • The transportation platform model that the EU Commission sees as competing directly with private taxi firms

We can better understand the EU view of the distortion of the competition if we look at the European Commission’s Impact Assessment report. The report outlines the growing importance of the platform economy in VAT collection and explains the studies conducted to ascertain where the EU Commission needs to take action.

In terms of numbers, the value of VAT revenue from the digital platform ecosystem is estimated at about EUR 25.7 billion per year for the Member States, i.e. 2.6 percent of total VAT revenue.

Scale of platform economy operation, by sectors (EU27, EUR billion, 2019)

 

Sector Revenue of digital platforms (EU27) Revenue of digital providers (EU27) Ecosystem Value (EU 27)
Accomodation 6.3 36.9 43.2
Transportation 7.2 31 38.2
E-commerce 16.6 93.8 110.4

Source: Extract from Commission Staff Working Document Impact Assessment Report, pag. 26

 

The total value of VAT revenue includes EUR 3.7 billion related to accommodation services and EUR 3.1 billion related to transportation services.

In these two sectors, private individuals and small businesses (i.e. underlying suppliers) can provide their VAT-free services (i.e. they do not account for any VAT) via a platform. With the economies of scale and network effect, these businesses can be in direct competition with traditional VAT-registered suppliers.

Taking into account the supporting study, the number of underlying suppliers who are not registered for VAT, can be up to 70%, depending on the type of platform.

For example, in the accommodation sector, over 50% of users of a particular accommodation platform specifically access the platform’s offering over a traditional hotel.  In Europe, the cost of accommodation offered via the accommodation platform can be, on average, some 8% to 17% cheaper than a regional hotel’s average daily rate.

In the view of the European Commission this means a distortion of competition between the same services offered via different channels.

The VAT treatment of the facilitation service

Clarifying the nature of services provided by the platform was the most supported intervention across different stakeholders.

In some Member States the treatment of the facilitation service charged by the platform is regarded as an electronically supplied service, whilst in others it is regarded as an intermediary service.

This is relevant because it can lead to different places of supply, which can lead to double or non-taxation. Therefore, clarification of these rules is necessary.

According to the proposal, the facilitation service (where the term “facilitation” extends to include short-term accommodation and passenger transport services) provided by a platform should be regarded as an intermediary service (Article 46a amending Directive 2006/112/EC). This allows for a uniform application of the place of supply rules for the facilitation service.

While this has no impact on the existing rules when the supply is carried out on a B2B basis, the same cannot be said about B2C supplies. Under this scenario, the place of supply will be where the underlying transactions takes place.

How will the VAT in the Digital Age proposal change the status quo?

According to the European Commission, the main issue with the platform economy is the inadequacy of the current VAT legal framework to ensure a level playing field with traditional businesses, specifically in the transport and accommodation sectors. Supplies made by small underlying suppliers via a platform are not taxed and the facilitation services made by platforms are taxed differently in different Member States. This leads to difficulties for the platforms, suppliers, and Member States.

Introducing a deemed supplier model will solve these issues, by which platforms will account for the VAT on the underlying supply where no VAT is charged by the supplier. This model ensures equal treatment between the digital and offline sectors of short-term accommodation rental and passenger transport.

In addition, clarifications will be given on the treatment of the facilitation service to allow for a uniform application of the place of supply rules, and steps will be taken to harmonise the transmission of information from the platform to the Member States.

In terms of timing, the proposed rules on the platform economy will take effect in 2025. This is a short period to put in place all needed changes to be compliant and it requires the platforms to begin looking into it as soon as possible.

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Author

Luca Clivati

Luca joined Sovos in 2022 and is a senior manager of the consulting team within Compliance Services. He holds a Master’s degree in International Economics and has 13+ years of experience on cross-border transactions and international VAT and GST. Luca specializes in tax consulting advisory focusing on indirect taxes, diagnosis, solution, development and implementation of clients’ tax requirements, VAT compliance and tax due diligences within the EU and in jurisdictions outside of it (mostly Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore).
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