VAT record keeping

VAT account

You must keep a separate record of the VAT you charge and the VAT you pay on your purchases. This record is called a ‘VAT account’.

You use the figures in your VAT account to complete your VAT Return.

There are no rules on what a VAT account should look like, but it must show:

  • your total VAT sales
  • your total VAT purchases
  • the VAT you owe HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • the VAT you can reclaim from HMRC
  • if your business uses the VAT Flat Rate Scheme - the flat rate percentage and turnover it applies to
  • the VAT on any EU acquisitions (purchases) or dispatches (sales)


If you’ve made an error in your VAT Return the VAT account must show:

  • the date you discovered the error
  • details about the error - for example how it happened, how you corrected it

You may also need to report the error to HMRC.

Bad debts

If you write off an invoice as a bad debt, you must keep a separate ‘VAT bad debt account’. The debt must be older than 6 months and for each bad debt you must show:

  • total amount of VAT involved
  • amount written off and any payments you’ve received
  • the VAT you’re claiming on the debt
  • the VAT period(s) you paid the VAT and are claiming the relief
  • invoices details like date, customer name

You must keep this information for 4 years.

  1. Step 1 Check if you need to follow this process

    You need to follow this process if you're moving goods to a country outside the EU.

    What you need to do is different if you are:

    1. Get exporting advice on
  2. Step 2 Check the rules for exporting your goods

    Check if you need a licence or certificate to export your goods from the UK. You also need to check if there are any restrictions or special rules in the country you want to export to.

    1. Check if you need a UK licence or certificate to export your goods
    2. Check the duties, rules and restrictions for your goods in the destination country

    The rules for trading with some countries outside the EU might change after Brexit.

    1. Check if the UK has negotiated a trade agreement with the country you are exporting to after Brexit
  3. Step 3 Register your business for exporting

    1. Get an EORI number
    2. Check if you should register for VAT

    You can apply for simplified declaration procedures and for Authorised Economic Operator status. These are most suitable for businesses that export goods regularly.

    1. Find out about using simplified declaration procedures
    2. Check if Authorised Economic Operator status is right for you
  4. Step 4 Apply for a licence or certificate if you need one

    How soon you need to start the application process and what you need to do depends on the type of goods you’re exporting.

    1. Apply for a licence or certificate if you need one
  5. Step 5 Decide who will make customs declarations and transport the goods

    You can hire someone to deal with customs and transport the goods for you, or you can do it yourself. Most businesses that export goods use a transporter or customs agent.

    1. Find out how to hire someone to deal with customs for you
    2. Find out what you'll need to do if you make the customs declaration yourself
    3. Find out how to transport goods out of the UK by road yourself
  6. Step 6 Classify your goods

    You must find the right commodity code to classify the goods you're exporting.

    Your customs agent or transporter might be able to help you with this.

    1. Find the right commodity code for your goods
  7. Step 7 Prepare the invoice and other documentation for your goods

    The completed invoice and any licences or certificates must travel with the goods.

    When filling in the value of your goods on the invoice, use the price you’re selling them for. List separately any freight or export insurance you included in the price. For free samples, use the market value of the goods.

    You might be able to zero rate the goods for VAT. This means you can charge your customers VAT at 0%.

    1. Check if you can zero rate the goods for VAT
  8. Step 8 Get your goods through customs

    If you've appointed someone to deal with UK customs for you, they'll make the declaration and get your goods through the UK border.

    1. Make an export declaration and get your goods cleared by UK customs

    You may need other documentation to get your goods into the destination country. Ask the person or business buying your goods what information you need to provide.

  9. Step 9 Keep invoices and records

    You must keep records of commercial invoices and any customs paperwork.

    If you exported controlled goods, for example firearms, keep the paperwork that shows who owns the goods.

    If you're VAT registered, record the goods in your VAT accounts and report them on your VAT Return. You'll need to do this even if you zero rated them.

    1. You are currently viewing: Find out how to record the goods in your VAT accounts
    2. Fill in your VAT Return