Charities are allowed to acquire advertising services from suppliers with the zero-rate of VAT but one condition for the relief to apply is that the advertising is made to the general public.
After consultation with the charity and advertising sector, HMRC released its Revenue and Customs Brief 13 in September 2020. The brief indicated that some supplies that are made by suppliers like Facebook could be treated as zero-rated, e.g. audience targeting and location targeting. However, the notice goes on to state that the standard rate of VAT applies to social media accounts because "when individuals log in to their personal pages, sites use tools to apply advertisements to them when they are signed in. The content will be related to the individual’s known likes, dislikes, interests or location, as a signed in member of the website."
We have a number of charity clients that are affected by this as they use suppliers like Facebook for a number of fundraising campaigns. As Facebook is based outside the UK it is up to the UK based charity to account for any VAT due and this is often to a large extent irrecoverable. Therefore, we have written to HMRC to seek clarification of its position.
HMRC has been provided with numerous examples of services and the terms and conditions applicable.
HMRC's response states that all supplies of Facebook advertising fall outside of zero-rated advertising. Consequently, 20% VAT must be accounted for by charities on such supplies received from suppliers based outside the UK.
HMRC's position is now clear and unless it is successfully challenged reverse charge VAT should be applied to services received from suppliers such as Facebook.
If VAT has not been applied to these services, HMRC should be notified of the amount of tax due in order that any penalties applicable can be mitigated.
Please get in touch with Kieran Smith or your usual VAT contact if you would like to discuss this further.
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