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Whether it is for a new supplier or you have suspicions that you’ve been given a fraudulent VAT number, there’s a couple of quick and easy way you can check a UK VAT Number.
Here’s how to look up a VAT number as well as some advice to help you if you think you’ve paid VAT to a supplier but you shouldn’t have.
Who Can Get a VAT Number?
Let’s start with some basics.
VAT stands for “Value Added Tax”. It is a tax you pay on goods and services bought in the UK.
When you go shopping, every time you buy something it will have VAT added onto it. As a UK resident, you’ll have to pay this.
The rate of VAT is currently set at 20%.
There are some goods and services that do not attract VAT like basic food, public transport and kids clothes.
It is then the responsibility of the shop to pay this tax you have paid over to HMRC.
Only HMRC can issue UK VAT numbers as they are responsible for managing UK taxes.
Only businesses who have registered for VAT with HMRC have a valid VAT number.
By checking that a VAT number is valid, you are confirming that you are paying VAT over to a business that will indeed reach HMRC.
Read this post to find out more about how businesses register for VAT.
What is the Format of a UK VAT Number?
All UK VAT numbers are 9 digits long. In the UK they may be prefixed by the letters GB.
Other countries will use a different prefix and number of digits. For example; French VAT numbers are 11 digits and prefixed with FR.
Is a Company Number the Same as a VAT Number?
No, these two numbers are not the same.
If you are dealing with an invoice from a VAT Registered Limited Company then you should expect to see two numbers on their invoices:
- a Company Registration Number and
- a VAT number
You can check a Company Registration Number on the Companies House Website.
If you are dealing with a VAT registered Sole Trader then there will probably be only the VAT number on their invoices.
Some sole traders do opt to include their UTR number on their invoices. There is no legal requirement to do this. But you should remember that this is a different number to their VAT reference.
How to Find a VAT Number
All VAT registered businesses are legally required to disclose their VAT number and the amount of VAT charged on every invoice they issue.
If you need to find a VAT number then the first place to check is on the invoice you have been given.
If the one you have doesn’t contain their information, then go back to your supplier BEFORE you pay them.
How to Check if UK VAT Number is Valid
Here are the two easiest ways to do a VAT number check:
If you call HMRC they can check if a company is VAT registered on your behalf.
The number you’ll need to call is:
0300 200 3700
HMRC will do the VAT number search while you are on the phone but you may find yourself on hold waiting for them to take your call!
For that reason, you may prefer to go online.
Use the VIES Checker Online
VIES stands for the VAT Information Exchange System.
The VIES is a central EU database that holds all the valid VAT numbers issued by each country in the European Union.
It’s a way to protect everyone in the EU from becoming victims of VAT fraud.
To check a UK VAT registration number on the online databse go to the European Commission website. Then:
- Choose the country code (two letters at the start of the VAT registration number);
- Enter the VAT number you have been given.
If the VAT Number is Valid
If the results of the VAT checker should the number is valid you’ll receive the following information from the VIES database:
- Member State
- VAT Registration Number
- Full Company Name
- Trading Address
If the VAT Number is NOT Valid
If you carry out a VAT check and the number you enter does not correspond to any VAT number the European Commission hold on their database then you will receive a message saying
‘No, invalid VAT number for cross border transactions within the EU ‘
What To Do If You Have Been Given an Invalid UK VAT Number
So if you have done a VAT number search and the results come back as not valid, then go back to the person who gave it to you to double-check what you have.
If they are unwilling or insist that their VAT number is correct then:
- Ask them to double-check with their accountant, Director or in their online business account;
- Consider reporting them to HMRC by phoning 0300 200 3700.
Why is a Valid UK VAT Number So Important
If you have received an invoice from a supplier which includes VAT, you can only claim back the VAT you pay if THEY have a valid VAT Number.
This means it is really important that if you have any doubt or are suspicious about the validity of a VAT Registration Number it is very much in your interests to check it and take appropriate steps if you find out it is incorrect.
How to Check a VAT Registration Date
The date a company became VAT registered is actually confidential information.
If you are trying to find this out about another business, you’ll have to go back and ask them.
If you are searching for your own businesses VAT registration date then you can:
- Log into your online HMRC VAT account and download your VAT registration certificate;
- Call HMRC to ask them for this information, although you’ll need to be a director or have authorisation to discuss the business.
Updated 26 October 2019
Anita is a Chartered Accountant with over a decade of experience taking self employed business owners from financially confused to business savvy.
She is the creator of the ‘Go Self Employed’ website, which her corner on the internet where she makes self employment less terrifying.