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The VAT man cometh...

Shropshire businesses who are registered for VAT should expect a visit from the tax man sooner rather than later.

Pam Mason, tax planning consultant from Dyke Yaxley Chartered Accountants, in Shrewsbury, said: "It's one of life's certainties that if you're VAT registered, you will almost certainly receive a visit from a HM Revenue ad Customs officer.

"These calls, known as assurance visits, are an integral part of the system, and they are designed to ensure your returns are an accurate reflection of what goes on in your business and that you are paying enough VAT.

"It's difficult to predict when such a visit may occur, but it's more likely if you have a history of not paying on time, if there's been a change in the pattern of your VAT returns, or if your business is seen as high risk, in particular if you handle a lot of cash."

Pam said the cost of being caught out by VAT control visit could be considerable both in terms of time and money.

"If you're caught unaware, you could face hours of valuable time being wasted, extra costs to sort out all the paperwork, and possible penalties and interest charges.

"You could also face a follow-up enquiry by HM Revenue and Customs, so the consequences can be very serious."

The visit will begin with an interview where the officer will be looking for possible areas of weakness in a company's accounting records.

The officer will then also examine company records to make sure returns have been completed properly, and they will probably focus on any sensitive areas identified during the initial interview.

"If you're not prepared, or if you're not sure of your facts, a visit can be a daunting experience.  But your accountant can attend the meetings too and help to answer the questions - this could help save precious time and money, and give you peace of mind that you won't trip up in such a stressful situation."

Dyke Yaxley's Pam Mason