Business as usual for pension schemes and VAT

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In a surprise recent announcement HMRC has finally settled the position on VAT treatment and DB pension schemes – and it’s good news for employers!

What did HMRC announce? 


  • years of uncertainty,
  • a number of complex cases (as reported in previous blogs here and here),
  • a change in HMRC policy;
  • a review of the effect of the change in policy; and
  • the implementation of a transitional period (extended numerous times and due to end on 31 December 2017) for employers to continue to use the old rules whilst the review took place,

HMRC finally announced that the existing rules and treatment for input tax deduction which were used by most DB employers will continue going forward. No mention was made of a need to extending the transitional period.

Why the uncertainty in the first place?

Following the PPG case[1], the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided that employers could deduct VAT on services relating to the administration of pensions and the investment management of the pension scheme’s assets.  This prompted a change in HMRC’s policy to cease to apply a blanket exclusion on the recovery, by employers, of VAT on investment management services pending completion of their review.

What does HMRC’s decision mean?

The pre PPG rules will now remain in place. These rules allowed employers to deduct VAT incurred in relation to the general administration costs of an occupational pension scheme. This was because these costs were considered to be overheads of the employer and had an immediate and direct link to the employer’s business activities.

What about investment management services?

There is potentially further good news for employers with regard to treatment of investment services costs.

Previously where invoices related to both administration and investment services, HMRC operated a 70/30 rule whereby employers could treat 70% of the invoices as an investment expense and 30% as an administration expense but employers could not deduct VAT incurred in relation to investment management services.

Under HMRC’s revised guidance an employer may, in certain circumstances, be able to change to a different arrangement and be able to deduct VAT incurred both on investment and administration services.

And there’s more…

This good news for DB employers followed the less helpful HMRC announcement made last month in its Revenue & Customs Brief 3 (2017) which had determined without consultation to withdraw a VAT exemption on and from 1 January 2018 on pension fund management services provided by insurers.

HMRC’s action is likely to mean that costs for employers who pay for fund management services provided by insurers will increase by 20% unless the special investment funding vehicle (SIF) exemption, as determined in the CJEU case of ATP Pension Services (C-464/12), applies.

In conclusion

As with all things in life, the devil is in the detail.  However, on balance the majority of DB employers should be in a happier place overall as a result of the two latest HMRC announcements. We would encourage all DB employers to speak to their usual tax adviser to understand how these developments may affect them.

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