By Lucy Chabot Reed
If you think the VAT issues in Europe were confusing this summer, you aren’t alone. Even the guys paid to worry about this stuff are unsure what could happen on any given day.
Here’s the way things are now, according to Ayuk Ntuiabane, a director at Moore Stephens, who spoke at this year’s 5th annual Superyacht Finance Forum in Monaco yesterday.
The increased attention on the Value-Added Tax and its collection stems, of course, from the reality that many European Union countries need more cash. And the best place to look for it, Ntuiabane said, is in consumption taxes such as the VAT and excise taxes, which account for 40 percent, on average, of EU revenue.
According to statistics from 2011, VAT was 21 percent of national tax revenue; the VAT gap (the difference between what should be collected and what actually is collected) is 12 percent, meaning there’s more than 107 billion euros available and due.
In January 2011, France amended legislation to include yacht charters among those services liable for VAT. But the following month, it issued an administrative document that said nothing had changed.
“So the legislation had changed but the practice had not changed,” Ntuiabane said.
France continued to exclude from VAT yachts with a commercial registration under charter with a permanent crew. And the yacht could be chartered by the owner provided he paid the charter fee at market rate.
“The bits after provided never were an issue,” Ntuiabane said. “Those were happier times.”
Now it’s become a sticking point.
There is a case in front of the European Commission contesting those points that is still pending. Industry experts are waiting for a decision next Friday to see what the future of VAT in France will look like.
“It was always assumed that Italy was sympathetic to France’s exemptions,” Ntuiabane said.
But last September, Italy issued a rule that charters that began in Italy were liable for Italian VAT and that the owner (or his representative) had to register, collect and pay the VAT.
Charters starting in another EU member state were liable for taxes there but not in Italy, and those starting outside the EU were liable for Italian VAT on the Italian leg of their journey.
The APA and delivery/repositioning fees can attract VAT if they are treated as a cost of the charter.
“Italy has turned the corner on clarifying if VAT applies on charters or not, but it is not yet clear where it will lead,” Ntuiabane said.
Like Italy, charters starting in Spain must pay VAT in Spain. The owner (or his representative) must register, collect and pay VAT.
Charters starting in another EU member state were not liable for Spain VAT, and those starting outside the EU were liable for Spanish VAT on the leg of their journey in Spain, “but it’s not practically enforced,” Ntuiabane said.
In June 2009, Greece issued a big statement saying that owners using false names and false contracts was coming to an end, and it passed a series of rules including a 10 percent tax on ownership, charging tax on duty-free fuel and requiring members of the exempt class to reclaim it at the end of the year, an increase in VAT from 19 to 23 percent, and an additional tax if in Greece more than 40 days.
“Then the crisis hit,” Ntuiabane said. “It’s been patchy interpretation and unstable tax regime. Despite all the rules, there is still a lot of uncertainty.”
What has happened, he said, has been the flight of yachts from Greece and pressure for reform, including a repeal of the luxury tax, a lifting of the cabotage restrictions and making the rules more flexible.
“Indications are that changes are under way,” Ntuiabane said.
The end result of all this news from various European states is that the days of being exempt from Europe’s value-added tax are likely coming to an end.
“Across the EU, VAT exemption for yachting activity is a vanishing dream,” Ntuiabane said. “I hope I’m not being too pessimistic. I’m being realistic.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of Triton Today Monaco, a daily produced by The Triton. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.