The horrible implications of the EU VAT “Place of Supply” change

March 29, 2021

Published on the 13 October 2014 and tagged Business, vat.

I’ve been aware for some time of an upcoming change to the VAT rules when selling to other EU businesses, and that they will change how we charge and report for VAT as a VAT registered business.

As I looked more deeply into these rules and how they apply to my VAT Registered business and sales of Perch CMS, I started to realise that there is a much wider implication. These rules potentially catch micro-businesses that are not registered for VAT. Any unregistered freelancer who also sells an ebook or licensed software needs to take a look at this right now.

My “user stories”

To try and make some sense of the changes – and explain how VAT works to non-registered people – I’m basing this explanation on some typical cases.


Joe is a freelance web designer. He is below the UK VAT Registration threshold. He only provides hands-on design services to his clients in the UK, Europe and USA, who pay him for his time by invoice.


Ann is a freelance designer. Like Joe, she is also below the UK VAT threshold. In addition to doing design work on a freelance basis she has written an ebook which is sold to people all over the world. She doesn’t currently charge VAT as she isn’t registered.


Tom operates as a Limited Company in the UK. He is registered for VAT. He and his small team does PHP development for clients in the UK and Europe. He charges VAT to UK clients who then reclaim it though their VAT return if they are VAT registered.

His European clients can avoid paying UK VAT if they have a VAT number in their own country, so Tom can invoice them without VAT.

European clients without a VAT number Tom charges VAT at the UK rate.

Tom also sells some licensed software – a couple of small PHP applications and an ebook about PHP security. However because he is VAT registered he must charge VAT on the sales. As with his services he must charge VAT a the UK rate to UK customers plus customers in Europe with no VAT number. He can allow business customers to buy the software and book without VAT as long as his store can validate their VAT number.

He submits his EC VAT Sales list quarterly, listing any sales to EC countries where he didn’t charge VAT. He pays VAT due to HMRC, the UK tax authority.

What are the changes?

To decide what VAT you need to charge someone buying a product or service, you use the “place of supply” rules.

Of our three case studies above we only have one VAT registered business – Tom. The current place of supply rules effect Tom as follows:

  • Tom does web development for a client in Germany – the place of supply is the UK – charge UK VAT
  • Tom sells an ebook or downloadable to a person without a VAT number (deemed a consumer) in Germany – the place of supply is the UK – charge UK VAT
  • Tom sells an ebook or downloadable to a company with a VAT number in Germany – he doesn’t charge VAT but reports the sale via his EC Sales list

After January 2015 if Tom sells an ebook to a customer in Germany with no VAT number he has to charge VAT at the German rate. This is because the “place of supply” for a digitally delivered service is changing to be the customer’s country NOT the supplier’s.

He also has to pay the VAT due to the German authorities, meaning he needs to register for VAT in Germany. In the UK however, as a VAT registered business, he will be able to register for the “Mini One Stop Shop” (MOSS), submit a return and pay the VAT due to them, and then MOSS will distribute it to each country.

So Tom now needs to update his systems to be sure that:

  • he can identify with two non-conflicting pieces of information the state the customer resides in
  • he knows what the VAT rate is in each EU member state
  • he can add VAT at the correct rate to the purchase of any non-VAT registered purchase
  • his invoices comply with the VAT rules in each member state
  • he can export whatever information is needed to comply with either the MOSS return rules OR the rules in each member state if he decided to register in each state
  • Tom needs to do this before the end of 2014

Tom’s PHP development services aren’t covered by this change. When he sends an invoice for work he has done, he uses UK VAT rates as before.

What products and services are included?

This is a non-exhaustive list of the things that readers of this blog are likely to be selling and that I think are covered by the rules.

  • downloadable software licenses
  • ebooks
  • video tutorials (not webinar in-person training however)
  • music downloads
  • Software as a Service

My understanding it that these rules cover any hands-off digital delivery of a product or service.

If you are below the UK VAT threshold so currently don’t charge VAT

If you are not VAT registered then you might be thinking you can avoid all of this. I have bad news.

Some countries – in particular the UK – have a very high VAT registration threshold. So lots of freelancers and micro-enterprises do not need to register for VAT. However, other countries have a low or even 0 threshold. If you sell your products into those countries then they can demand you register for VAT in their country and submit a VAT return to them OR (in the UK) register for the MOSS, which will deal with paying the VAT due to other member countries for you.

You can only register for the MOSS if you are UK VAT Registered.

This means that Ann – our freelancer designer who also sells an ebook – is either going to have to register for VAT in every country she sells to, charge VAT to their residents and pay VAT due OR register in the UK and also register for MOSS.

Her small ebook venture is then going to have to comply with the same VAT rules that apply to Tom, running his larger enterprise.

Ann needs to do this before the end of 2014.

Joe only sells his time, as a freelance designer. Joe can disregard all of this. However the rules might mean that he puts plans for that ebook on the shelf as the potential hassle it could bring, makes the few thousand quid he might make not worth it.

I’m still hoping that there is some loophole for people meaning the above isn’t true. However I’ve now read this in several different places, for example see this PDF from Grant Thornton.

Assuming that the sales and delivery method you use for your book or software will have you covered isn’t a great plan. Check with them what your liability actually is.

Let’s crowdsource this

I’m not an accountant, I’m a web developer who just read a bunch of tax documentation. I can’t be sure I am completely correct in the above, but there is one thing I can be absolutely sure of. Micro-businesses are not going to get any help with this from the government. No-one is interested in bootstrapped small products and services. We’re on our own.

If you do have an accountant or tax advisor then naturally speak to them. However I think many people who will be caught by this do not have such professional advice.

So lets help each other.

I’ve set up a GitHub repo and GitHub Pages site. Help me build it out with what you know and learn over the next few months.

If you know of useful resources and tools, add them to the list.

If you have implementation experience of how you have gone about preparing your systems for the change, write it up.

Raise an issue if you think this might effect you and need answers – people who understand this please comment on those issues. If you are commenting and have official capacity, e.g.: you are a tax specialist or accountant, please say so.

We can’t offer each other advice in an official capacity, but that shouldn’t stop us just sharing what we know and learn.

Help me raise awareness of this

I don’t want to frighten people about this like some kind of VAT legislation reading prophet of doom. However I don’t want people to get caught out in a set of rules that aren’t written for people like us, but will still apply to people like us.

If you can please upvote this post on Hackernews or anywhere else that people who make and sell digital products and services hang out, tweet about it, tell other people. From talking to people it is obvious that very few people really understand that the rules are changing and, like me, are pretty confused as to what to do.