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What is a VAT number?

May 16, 2022
Whether you’ve just surpassed the VAT threshold or have decided to voluntarily register your business for Value Added Tax (VAT), registering for VAT means you’ll be able to reclaim the VAT you’ve paid on the goods and services bought for your business.

In order for you to successfully make your claim, you’ll need to get to grips with VAT numbers. Not only will you need to have yours close by when filing your VAT Return, but you’ll also need to know where to find supplier VAT numbers and how to check they’re valid.We’ll be going through everything you need to know about VAT numbers, from what they are and what they look like, to where you can find them and how to verify their validity.

What is a VAT number?

A VAT number is a unique identification number that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gives to businesses when they first register for VAT. You might find that this number is also referred to as a VAT Registration Number, or VRN.

UK VAT number format

You can identify a UK VAT number by looking at the format. UK VAT numbers are 9-digits long and often begin with the prefix ‘GB’.It’s important to note that this format applies to UK VAT numbers alone. If you’ve been identified as trading under the Northern Ireland Protocol — where you sell and move goods between Northern Ireland and the European Union — your VAT registration number will begin with ‘XI’.
If you’re completing an EC Sales List, you’ll need to use EU country codes and their corresponding VAT numbers, with the full list available over at gov.uk.

How do I get a VAT number?

When you register your business for VAT, HMRC will send you a VAT registration certificate acknowledging your registration. This certificate will contain your VAT number, along with your ‘effective date of registration’ — either the date you surpassed the VAT threshold, or asked to register voluntarily — and when you need to submit your first VAT Return and payment.

You can register your business for VAT online by creating a VAT online account, otherwise known as a ‘Government Gateway account’, or by post using form VAT1 if:

    You want to apply for a ‘registration exception’You’re joining the Agricultural Flat Rate SchemeYou’re registering the divisions or business units of a body corporate under separate VAT numbers
Alternatively, you can sign up to Ember’s Unlimited plan, where our in-house team of qualified accountants will register your business for VAT for you.

Why do I need a VAT number?

One of the main benefits of being a VAT registered business is being able to reclaim the VAT you pay on goods and services used for business purposes. To do this, you’ll need your VAT number close to hand when filing your VAT Return.
Diagram showing how input VAT and output VAT work
Attempting to claim VAT from your supplier without a valid VAT number can see your claim rejected by HMRC. As a result, not only will the VAT spent buying the goods and services from suppliers come out of your pocket, but you could find yourself faced with a hefty amount of paperwork to deal with the situation.

How do I find my VAT number?

You can find your VAT number on the VAT registration certificate you received from HMRC when you first registered your business for VAT.You can also find your VAT number on your HMRC business account. Simply log into your Government Gateway account, click on ‘View your VAT account’ and select the option to view your VAT certificate.

Why do I need to check VAT numbers?

All VAT-registered companies are required to include the VAT numbers on all their invoices, so if your supplier has left theirs off be sure to contact them as soon as possible. Without this number, you won’t be able to submit a claim.

How to check a VAT number is valid

There are a few ways you can check to see if a UK VAT number is valid: by contacting HMRC or, for UK and EU VAT numbers, checking the VIES website.

Contacting HMRC

Since every VAT-registered business is registered with HMRC, HMRC will have a database with information on every VAT-registered UK business and their corresponding VAT numbers.
To find out if the VAT number a supplier has given you is correct, you can call the VAT helpline on 0300 200 3700 or by using HMRC’s own ‘Check a UK VAT number’ online service.

Visiting the VIES website

If you’re dealing with both UK and EU VAT numbers, you can use the VIES (VAT Information Exchange System) website to check the authenticity of any VAT number in the UK or EU.

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