No General or Statutory right to a VAT Invoice
The High Court found that a customer has no general or statutory enforceable right to require a supplier to provide a VAT invoice. (See Royal Mail Group Litigation v The Royal Mail Group Limited  EWHC 97).
The issue arose following the European Court of Justice’s ruling in 2009 that VAT was chargeable on postal arrangements that were individually negotiated. It had previously been understood they were exempt. UK VAT legislation was revised to comply with the ruling. The claimants sought to require Vat invoices from Royal Mail so they could reclaim input tax from HMRC in relation to the periods before the legislation was changed.
Although regulation 13(1) Value Added Tax Regulations 1995 sets out an obligation for the supper to provide a VAT invoice where a relevant taxable supply is made there, this is not directly enforceable by a customer. The High Court relied on various factors, including that the legislation allowed HMRC to accept alternative evidence of payment of input tax (see 29(2) Value Added Tax Regulations 1995). Further, that the form and timing of the invoice was variable at the request of HMRC. In addition the legislation provided for penalties in the event of non-compliance. The court considered Parliament could not have intended for private parties to have directly enforceable rights against their supplier.
The High Court considered the contract did not require Royal Mail to render a VAT invoice. In the particular facts of this case, it was not possible to imply such a term. The claimant tried to argue that such a term was implicit in contracts between parties registered for VAT. However the court considered that could not be the case where both parties understood that VAT was exempt.
Zipvit Ltd v HMRC  EWCA Civ 1515, involved similar facts and the court of Appeal rejected the customer’s attempt to reclaim input tax. The customer tried to argue that they should be entitled to recover the VAT in the absence of VAT invoice on the basis of HMRC’s discretion to accept alternative evidence. The Court of Appeal found the contract provided for VAT exempt supplies. The purpose of regulation 13 was to allow HMRC to monitor that the supplier had paid the VAT. Accordingly the customer was not able to provide satisfactory alternative evidence that VAT had been accounted for by the supplier.
The case demonstrates the importance of clear contractual terms to make provision for VAT, and the requirement of VAT invoices. In the absence of a contractual right there are no general or statutory rights to assist a customer.