Checking if a VAT registration number is valid – the best way to do it

If you are dealing with a new customer or supplier and want to check whether the VAT registration number (VRN) they have supplied is valid, there are two ways you can do so.

One method is to call the HMRC VAT Helpline, the other is to use the online VAT Information Exchange System (VIES) run by the European Commission.

1. Call the HMRC VAT Helpline

One option, you have to find out whether the VAT registration number you have been given is valid, is to call the HMRC VAT Helpline on 0300 200 3700 – between 8am and 6pm during the week.

However, there are two drawbacks to this option. The first disadvantage is that HMRC can only check up on the VAT number for UK registered businesses. The second issue is the limited opening hours of the VAT Helpline.

Given that you might well want to check a VAT number outside of the helpline’s opening hours, and that it can take time to get through to a member of staff even when the helpline is open, you might not find this to be the best alternative.

2. Use the online VAT Information Exchange System (VIES)

The second option is to use the online VAT number validation service provided by the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES).

The VIES website, which is operated by the European Commission, lets you check the validity of a VAT registration number for any business registered in the EU.

The VIES search engine uses real-time data feeds from individual member states’ VAT systems so the information should be up to date at all times.

The main reason why the VIES service was established was to counteract the growing threat of ‘carousel fraud’, whereby innocent businesses and individuals find themselves caught in a chain of fraudulent transactions.

To access the European Commission’s VIES to validate a VAT number, simply go to this page of their website.

You then simply select from the drop-down menu, the country where the business is located, and then enter the VAT registration number you want to check. The site will then let you know whether the number is, ‘Valid’, or ‘Invalid’

If it is a valid VAT registration number, depending on the local data protection rules, some countries will also give you the name and address of the business linked to the VAT number.

Keep a copy of your search

Once you have checked a VAT number you can then print out or save the results of the search to prove to HMRC that the VAT number in question was valid at the time of your search.

By doing this, you can prove that you have acted in good faith if ever your dealings with a VAT-registered business is questioned by HMRC.

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.

What to do if a VAT registration number is not valid?

If you enter a VAT number into the VIES website and it says that it is not a valid VRN number, the first thing to do is to go back and check with your customer or supplier. It’s possible they accidentally gave you the wrong VAT number.

If the number continues to be ‘invalid’ after you have double-checked it with the company, you should inform them that the VIES system is reporting it as an invalid VAT number. The company can then get in touch with HMRC and ask that the data held in the national VAT Information Exchange System (VIES) is corrected.

You can only reclaim VAT if you have a valid VAT invoice

You can only reclaim VAT on supplies if you have a valid VAT invoice from a supplier. The details that must be shown on a valid VAT invoice include;

  • The business name and address
  • A unique invoice number
  • The VAT registration number of the business
  • A description of the goods or services supplied and
  • The date.

Before you claim back the VAT, you should first ensure that all these details are shown on the invoice. It is also good practice to check that the supplier’s VAT number is valid, especially when you are reclaiming a large amount of VAT.

If you don’t follow the rules, HMRC can refuse your request to reclaim the VAT. This will leave you out of pocket.

Last updated: 15th February, 2021

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