Guidance

Freight transport and associated services (VAT Notice 744B)

How to account for VAT on services when a vehicle, ship or aircraft is provided, together with a driver or crew for the transport of goods.

Detail

This notice cancels and replaces VAT Notice 744B (December 2010). This notice applies to supplies made on or after 1 January 2021 in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland unless otherwise stated. References to UK should be construed accordingly.

1. Overview

1.1 This notice

It explains in detail the VAT liability of freight transport and related services made in the UK. This notice also covers the place of supply of these services. For general rules on the place of supply of services see VAT Notice 741A: place of supply of services.

Other Notices:

1.2 Changes to the notice

This notice has been updated to reflect changes to the VAT treatment of supplies of goods and services following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

1.3 Who should read this notice

Any business that’s involved in the providing freight transport services or services of handling or storing goods in connection with such transport services.

1.4 The law covering this notice

Group 8 (Transport) of Schedule 8 (Zero Rate) to the VAT Act 1994.

Some or all of paragraph 7.7 has force of law

2. Freight transport and handling

2.1 The definition of freight

Freight includes:

  • goods or cargo
  • mail
  • documents
  • unaccompanied vehicles

2.2 The meaning of freight transport services

Freight transport services are supplied when a vehicle, ship, train or aircraft is provided together with a driver or crew for the carriage of goods.

If you hire a vehicle, ship, train or aircraft without a driver or crew, you’re supplying a means of transport, not freight transport services. If you hire a vehicle, ship, train or aircraft with a driver but do not transport anything anywhere, you are not supplying a transport service.

References to “vehicle” includes tractor units and trailers combined or separately and references to “trains” includes locomotives and wagons combined or separately.

VAT Notice 744C: ships, trains, aircraft and associated services explains hiring in more detail.

You have to consider all of the following 3 points in order:

  • the place of supply of your services, which follows the status of the customer, see section 3
  • the liability of the supply, which follows the place of supply of your services, see section 4

3. Place of supply

3.1 Status of your customer

The first step in determining the place of supply of your freight transport and related services is to establish whether your customer is ‘in business’, or not, for the purpose of receiving the supply.

Whether your customer is ‘in business’ is a wide test and is not confined to customers within the UK or the EU, but applies to any customer anywhere in the world, nor is it confined to customers that are VAT-registered.

A detailed explanation and examples of when a customer is, or is not ‘in business’, and suggestions for evidence to be held can be found in VAT Notice 741A: place of supply of services .

3.2 Customer in business

Freight transport and related services fall under the B2B general rule when supplied to customers ‘in business’. The general rule is that the place of supply of services to a person who’s ‘in business’ is the place where the customer belongs for the purposes of receiving your supply.

But the place of supply of these services that would have a place of supply in the UK under the general rule, but which take place wholly outside the UK, is treated as taking place where performed.

For example a customer is ‘in business’ in:

  • France - the goods move within France, so the place of supply of freight transport and related service is France
  • Australia - the goods move from Australia to the UK with related transport services undertaken in France, here the place of supply of freight transport and related service is Australia
  • UK - the goods move from Canada to China, so the place of supply of freight transport and related service is Canada, China and international waters or airspace
  • The Netherlands - the goods move from Italy to Ireland, where you supply a related transport service, so the place of supply of freight transport and related service is The Netherlands

3.3 Customer not in business

The place of supply of freight transport and related services supplied to customers who are not ‘in business’ is as follows:

Journey Place of supply
Transport within the UK UK
Transport between Northern Ireland and EU where the journey begins
All other journeys Where transport takes place in proportion to the distance covered
Ancillary transport related services where physically performed

Transport between two points in the same country is treated as wholly within that country even if the route takes the journey outside that country.

For example a non-business customer is in:

  • France - the goods move within France, the place of supply of freight transport and related service is France
  • Australia - the goods move from Australia to the UK, with related transport services undertaken in France, the place of supply of freight transport is Australia, the UK and any other country transited, the related transport services are supplied in France
  • UK - the goods move from Canada to China, the place of supply of freight transport and related service is Canada, China and international waters or airspace

If you’re a sub-contractor supplying freight transport or related services to a main contractor, the place of supply of your services is determined by the status of your immediate customer.

For example, if a French company moves goods from Italy to Ireland for a UK company, the place of supply is the UK, as that’s where the customer belongs. If you’re sub-contracted to move these goods from Dover to Holyhead for the French contractor, the place of supply of your service is France, as that’s where your customer belongs.

4. VAT liability

4.1 Place of supply is the UK

If the place of supply of freight transport or related services is the UK then the supply is standard rated, except for:

  • the supply of transportation or related services connected with an import into or an export from the UK
  • when the supply is of handling or storage of ship, railway or aircraft cargo (in certain circumstances) (see section 7)
  • when the supply is zero-rated

4.2 Place of supply is outside the UK

If the place of supply is outside the UK, then the supply is outside the scope of UK VAT and there is no VAT liability within the UK. But, you’ll be able to recover any input tax incurred in making the supply, subject to the normal rules.

Further information on input tax can be found in the VAT guide (Notice 700).

You may have a liability to VAT register in any other country where you make the supplies (see paragraph 4.3).

4.3 Accounting for VAT

The procedure for accounting for VAT and who accounts for it will depend on the circumstances of the transaction.

If the supplier and the place of supply is the UK, it is a domestic supply and VAT will be accounted for in the UK.

If the supplier is outside the UK and makes supplies to customers in business in the UK, the customer will have account for VAT as a reverse charge. See Section 10 for more information.

If the place of supply is outside the UK then the supply is outside the scope of UK VAT. You may have to register in the country where the supply is taking place and account for VAT or similar tax there. You will need to contact the relevant authorities in that country.

5. Import, export and non-UK freight transport

5.1 The meaning of import, export and non-UK freight transport

For the purpose of this section import, export and non-UK freight transport means the transport of goods:

  • between the UK and other countries
  • wholly outside the UK

5.2 Place of supply of this freight transport

The place of supply of import, export and non-UK freight transport follows the rules set out in sections 2 and 3.

5.3 VAT liability of import, export and non-UK freight transport

Where the place of supply is the UK, zero rating applies to:

  • the supply of transport of goods from a place within to a place outside the UK and vice versa
  • the transport, handling and storage of goods, when supplied in connection with a journey from the place of importation to their destination, within the UK (to the extent that those services are supplied in the UK)
  • the transport, handling and storage of goods, when supplied in connection with a journey from their origin, within the UK (to the extent that those services are supplied in the UK)

Handling and storage is covered in section 7.

5.4 The meaning of destination and origin

Destination is the furthest specified place in the UK to which the goods are consigned at the time of importation. It’s the place stated on the consignment note or any other document by means of which the goods are imported.

These are often known as the delivery terms, which are explained further at paragraph 5.5. When that place is unknown, the destination is the place of importation.

Goods consigned to Destination is
Goods arriving at Felixstowe and consigned to Birmingham Birmingham
Goods arrive at Heathrow to await further instructions Heathrow

Origin is the place within the UK from which the goods are first consigned for export. When that place is unknown, the origin is the place of exportation.

Goods consigned from Origin is
Goods for export consigned from Newcastle to Sydney Newcastle
Goods moved from Manchester to Southampton before they’re consigned for export Southampton

5.5 Delivery terms

The main delivery terms used in the UK are:

Abbreviation Title Meaning
EXW Ex works The goods are made available at the seller’s premises (for example, works, factory, warehouse and so on) and the buyer bears all the costs (loading, transport and so on) from that point on
DDU or DDP Delivered Domicile (fully delivered) The seller delivers the goods to a named place in the country of arrival (for example, the buyer’s premises or a particular warehouse) and is responsible for all costs involved in doing so
FOB Free on board at the port of departure The seller bears the cost of transporting the goods to the port in the country of exportation. The buyer is responsible for all costs from that point
CIF Cost, insurance and freight to the port of arrival The seller pays all the costs and freight charges necessary to get the goods to a port or airport in the UK. The buyer is responsible for the charges associated with domestic transport from the port or airport

A complete list of delivery terms is given in VAT Notice 252: valuation of imported goods for customs purposes, VAT and trade statistics.

5.6 Examples of services connected with imports and exports that are zero-rated

To the extent that the place of supply is the UK It is
transport is from Birmingham to Dover of goods to be exported to Algeria zero-rated - it’s a supply in connection with an export from the UK
transport is from the USA to Swansea zero-rated - it’s a supply of transport from outside to within the UK
storage of goods being exported from Edinburgh to Dubai zero-rated - it’s a supply of storage in connection with an export from the UK
transport of goods from South Africa to Felixstowe of goods consigned to Switzerland zero-rated - it’s a supply of transport into the UK, notwithstanding that the goods are destined for Switzerland

5.7 Documentary evidence needed to show that your services form part of an import or export movement

If you provide such services you should hold satisfactory evidence that you’re providing a service connected with a specific import or export of goods in the form of commercial documentation.

The list is not exhaustive. If you have difficulties in obtaining these documents, you should contact our VAT: general enquiries.

Details about ‘satisfactory evidence’ for exports are also given in Goods exported from the UK (Notice 703).

Main forms of documentary evidence include Additionally, a combination or all of these may provide suitable evidence
Contracts or agreements Inter-company correspondence
Consignment notes The customer’s order documentation
Bills of lading Payment details
Certificates of shipment Sales invoices
Air or seaway bills Advice notes
Customs declaration forms C88 (SAD)  

5.8 Services connected with imports or exports not zero-rated

The following services are not zero-rated.

The transport of goods after their arrival at the destination. For example, the transport after arrival at a warehouse (the destination they were consigned to) where the customer is known but the further destination elsewhere in the UK is not known. When the goods are at some later date called off for consignment to (say) a branch, the transport and any related services cannot be zero-rated.

Services connected with goods which have not specifically been consigned for export at the time of transport.

The handling or storage of goods after they’ve been unloaded at the destination unless the conditions in section 7 are met.

6.1 What are related transport services

These include the following services when they relate to the transport of goods:

  • loading, unloading or reloading
  • stowing
  • opening for inspection
  • cargo security services
  • preparing or amending bills of lading, air or sea waybills and certificates of shipment
  • packing necessary for transport
  • storage

The place of supply of related transport services follows the rules set out in section 2 and 3.

The procedures for accounting for VAT are set out in section 4.

7. Handling and storage services in connection with ship, train and aircraft cargo

7.1 Handling and storage services

Here are some examples of handling and storage services:

  • cargo security services
  • container handling for which a box charge is made
  • demurrage
  • loading stores and discharging empties
  • loading, unloading, reloading, stowing, securing and shifting cargo
  • movement of goods to or from a ship by lighter
  • preparing or amending bills of lading, air or sea waybills and certificates of shipment
  • preparing or amending customs entries
  • presenting goods for customs examination
  • sorting, opening for inspection, repairing and making good, weighing and taring, taping and sealing, erasing and re-marking, labelling and re-numbering, tallying, checking, sampling, measuring or gauging of goods
  • stevedoring and porterage
  • survey of cargo (including damaged cargo)

7.2 How you should treat handling and storage services

The handling and storage of goods carried on a ship, train or aircraft may be zero-rated, provided the service is physically performed in the UK. Certain restrictions apply to the extent of the zero-rating which is covered in the linked paragraphs.

For handling of ship, railway train or aircraft cargo, the service must be performed:

However:

  • the grant of a licence to occupy land to store goods in a specific area, as distinct from the service of storing them, may be exempt from VAT (see VAT Notice 742: land and property)
  • see paragraph 5.3 for handling and storage services relating to imported and exported goods
  • see paragraph 7.7 for related services that are excluded from zero rating

7.3 Application in a port or land adjacent to a port

Port means any port appointed for customs purposes and this includes all seaports, coastline and territorial waters (normally 12 nautical miles from the coast) around the UK up to the mean high-water mark and the inland water as far as the tide flows, together with associated docks and harbours.

The water of the Manchester Ship Canal between the Mersey and Manchester is also a customs port.

The legislation defining the ports does not include any land, so ‘land adjacent to a port’ means the immediate quayside and any warehousing or storage facilities thereon.

The zero-rate applies to cargo carried on any ship, not just “qualifying ships’’.

7.4 Application in a customs and excise airport

Customs and excise airport means an airport designated for the landing or departure of aircraft for the purposes of the Customs and Excise Acts by an order in council. The limit of a customs and excise airport is normally the boundary of the airport itself. A list of customs and excise airports can be found in volume 3 of the Customs tariff. The zero-rate applies to cargo carried on any aircraft, not just “qualifying aircraft”.

7.5 Application in a ‘non-customs and excise airport’

Not all airports are designated as Customs and Excise airports, in most cases these airports will operate under a Certificate of Agreement.

The zero-rate only applies to cargo carried on a “qualifying aircraft”. (see Notice 744C)

7.6 Application in an International railway area

The zero-rating applies to cargo carried on any train in a customs approved area, or cargo carried on an international train on any part of the rail networks of Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

7.7 The meaning of International Rail area

This is:

  • place at which goods are loaded onto or unloaded from, or passengers board or disembark from, a railway vehicle before it departs or enters the United Kingdom, or
  • an area adjoining such a place

In addition, such other places relating to international rail travel and as HMRC specify.

The rest of this paragraph specifies such areas and has force of law.

International Railway area includes any part of the national rail networks of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and any yards or sidings linked to them.

7.8 The meaning of International trains

International trains are those that are engaged on an international journey.

International rail journeys will generally be those to/from Great Britain using the Channel Tunnel and trains crossing the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

7.9 The meaning of Temporary Storage Facility

A temporary storage facility is a place approved by customs for the deposit of goods imported and not yet cleared out of charge having the status of goods in temporary storage. Goods are in temporary storage until they’re assigned to a customs-approved treatment or use. An example of the latter is placing the goods under a customs procedure, such as entry to ‘free circulation’. This includes goods not yet reported and entered.

Further information can be found in Notice 199A: temporary storage and approved depositories.

7.10 Handling services relating to imported or exported goods

The goods handling services may qualify for zero rating if the goods concerned have been imported into, or exported from the UK see section 5.

7.11 Services excluded from zero rating

The letting on hire of any goods including cranes or other lifting equipment is not zero-rated.

8. Intermediary services

8.1 What are intermediary services

This is where you act for, or represent someone else (the principal), in the making of arrangements for a supply of freight transport or a related service as covered in this notice.

Further information about intermediaries can be found in the VAT guide (Notice 700) and VAT Notice 741A: place of supply of services.

The place of supply of intermediary services follows the rules set out in section 2 and 3 as they relate to your customer, ‘the principal’.

8.3 VAT treatment of intermediary services

If you’re the initial intermediary who’s involved in the making of arrangements of the services covered in this notice, and the place of supply of your services is the UK, your supply is zero-rated if you make arrangements for the supply of:

  • space in a qualifying ship or aircraft
  • handling, storage or transport of goods imported or exported from the UK as set out in section 6
  • handling or storage services as set out in section 7

In all other cases your supply is standard-rated.

For more information on the meaning of qualifying ships and aircraft see VAT Notice 744C ships, aircraft and associated services.

If you arrange for a supply of freight transport that takes place wholly in France, for a UK customer that is not ‘in business’, the place of supply of your service is France. You, as the supplier of the intermediary service, may be required to account for the VAT on your supply in France.

If you arrange for a supply of freight transport to export goods from France to the USA, for a UK customer that is ‘in business’, the place of supply of your service is the UK. The freight service being arranged takes place outside the UK so is zero rated. See VAT Notice 741A: place of supply of services.

If you arrange for a supply of freight handling at Felixstowe docks for a UK customer that is not ‘in business’, the place of supply of your service is the UK. The service being arranged is the handling, in a port, of goods carried on a ship so is zero-rated.

9. Freight forwarders

9.1 Special VAT rules for freight forwarders

There are no special rules for the VAT treatment of freight forwarders. You must look at the services you’re providing on an individual basis to determine how they should be treated for VAT purposes.

9.2 What to consider in determining the VAT treatment of your supplies as a freight forwarder

To determine the VAT treatment of your supplies you need to consider:

  • if you’re acting as a principal or an intermediary - as freight forwarder you may provide a variety of supplies either acting as an intermediary in arranging supplies between two other parties or supplying the services as a principal - see section 9
  • if you’re making a single supply - if you act as a principal, it’s likely that you provide your customers with a number of services in relation to a single transaction or contract, in such circumstances, your services may form a single supply for VAT purposes, where you’re making such a single supply, its VAT treatment should be determined according to the overall essential nature of the supply, see paragraph 10.4
  • if you’re making multiple supplies your services may constitute more than one supply, you will need to consider the treatment and VAT liabilities of such separate supplies on an individual basis, similarly, if you’re an agent, you may be arranging one or more supplies - this can affect both the place of supply and the liability of your services, see paragraph 10.4
  • the place of supply for your services, see section 2 and 3
  • the VAT liability of the services you’re providing, this will depend upon the nature of the services you’re providing or the place of supply for these services

9.3 Examples of supplies made by freight forwarders

Some examples are:

Description Nature of supply Place of supply and VAT liability
You’re asked to arrange for goods to be imported from the USA on behalf of a UK non-business customer. You buy in the international transport, arrange insurance, arrange customs clearance, pay the import duty, and buy in the transport from the place of importation to your customer’s premises. You’re regarded as making a single supply of international transport. Your supply is zero-rated to the extent that the transport takes place in the UK. The rest of the journey is outside the scope of UK VAT (see paragraph 3.2). The payment of import duty is a disbursement and is outside the scope of VAT (see paragraph 10.4).
A UK business customer asks you to arrange delivery of their goods from Paris to Birmingham. You buy in the transport and arrange for overnight storage at Dover. You’re making a single supply of transport with associated handling and storage. The place of supply is the UK (see paragraph 3.1). Your supply is zero rated.
A UK customer has arranged to have goods exported to Australia. You’re asked merely to arrange for a haulier to take the goods to the airport. You’re acting as an intermediary in the making of arrangements of international freight transport. The haulier is making supplies of transport in connection with an export. Your supply is zero-rated (see section 9). The haulier’s supply is zero-rated (see section 5).

9.4 How to treat disbursements

Disbursements, such as payment of customs duty, are outside the scope of VAT and should normally be identified separately on your invoice. This does not apply to expenses you incur in making your supply, such as postage and telephone costs, these form part of the consideration for your supply (whether your supply is standard or zero-rated), even if separately itemised on your invoice.

Further information on disbursements is given in the VAT guide (Notice 700).

10. Reverse charge

10.1 Reverse charge procedure

This is a simplification, which means that overseas suppliers do not register and account for VAT on supplies made in the UK to customers that are ‘in business’ in the UK.

10.2 How does the reverse charge operate

If you receive services to which the reverse charge applies, you, the customer, must account for VAT as if you were the supplier of the services. You will need to credit your VAT account with an amount of output tax, calculated on the full value of the supply you have received and at the same time, debit your account with the input tax to which you’re entitled, in accordance with the normal rules.

Customers that are not VAT-registered must add the value of the supply received to their business turnover for the purpose of deciding whether they need to register for VAT. See VAT Notice 700/1: should I be registered for VAT.

Further information on input tax is given in the VAT guide (Notice 700) and further information on reverse charge is given in VAT Notice 741A: place of supply of services.

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Published 24 December 2009
Last updated 31 December 2020 + show all updates
  1. This page has been updated because the Brexit transition period has ended.

  2. First published.