If you are dealing with a new customer and want to check whether the VAT number they have supplied is valid, there are several ways you can do so.
To establish the validity of the UK VAT number, you can try the HMRC VAT helpline (0845 010 9000) – between 8am and 8pm during the week.
However, given that ‘delays’ can occur when trying to get in touch with the tax authorities, you might save time and hassle by using an online VAT validation service provided by the European Commission.
The main reason why the EC service was established was to counteract the growing threat of ‘carousel fraud’, whereby innocent business and individuals find themselves caught in a chain of fraudulent transactions.
The VAT Information Exchange System (VIES) will let you check the validity of VAT numbers provided by EU-wide companies. The system uses data from real-time feeds from individual member states’ VAT systems.
You can then print out or save the results of the search to show that the VAT number in question was valid at the time of your search, and can prove that you have acted in good faith if ever your dealings with a VAT-registered business is questioned by HMRC, or need to reclaim lost VAT.
The VIES will also prove useful if you undertake zero-rate transactions with other EU businesses – as one of the conditions of zero-rating is that your clients or customers must be VAT registered.
You can access the VIEW system to validate VAT numbers here.