The VAT treatment of property can be challenging. Normally, supplies of land and buildings are exempt from VAT. There are some exceptions to this, the prime examples being the sale of new residential property, (zero-rated) and the freehold sale of new commercial property, less than three years old (standard-rated). But in most other cases, when property is sold or rented, no VAT changes hands and the person making the supply is debarred from recovery of VAT on associated expenditure. Where this poses a significant business issue, the option to tax is sometimes useful.
The option to tax is just that – a choice. It’s effectively about turning an exempt supply of property into a taxable supply. It applies to the sale or rent of commercial property, not to residential property. Opting to tax means you then charge VAT at standard rate on any supplies you make of the opted property and can recover input tax incurred in making the supply. Where supplies are both taxable and exempt, say where a building is used for both commercial and residential purposes, recovery should be restricted to input tax relating to the taxable supply only. If you rent out a flat over a shop, for example, the rents you receive for the flat will still be exempt from VAT, even if you have an option to tax covering the building as a whole. This may affect the amount of input tax that can be reclaimed.
It’s a decision with long term implications. Though an option can be revoked, this can usually only be done after 20 years. There are commercial implications, too: opting to tax adds to the cost of your supply, possibly deterring clients unable to recover input tax. Further along the line, you may need to factor in any interaction with the VAT Capital Goods Scheme; the impact on disposals which are treated as the transfer of a going concern; and the interaction with Stamp Duty Land Tax on sale. Bespoke advice is therefore recommended before any decision is made.