The South African Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, tabled the 2018/19 Budget in Parliament on Wednesday, 21 February 2018. Government announced a lower than predicted 1% increase in the value-added tax (“VAT”) rate from the current 14% to 15% with effect from 1 April 2018. 

Leaving aside the raging debates over whether the increase was a good move, the impact on the poor and whether zero rating of additional items should be introduced to assist in poverty relief, the reality is that businesses now have just over a month to “V” day! 

Given the extensive systems and documentation changes required, this is an extremely short time frame in which to ensure compliance by 1 April. As a transaction-based tax, the tentacles of VAT reach into virtually every area and system in a business. Obviously, the core accounts receivable and payable systems and the general ledger are key. However, the rate change will affect sub-systems, payroll, invoicing, pricing, bad debts and many other operating procedures. 

Financial institutions, residential property developers, certain educational institutions and any other exempt or partially exempt businesses will experience an increase in their base cost as they are unable to claim the full amount of VAT incurred on costs. Annual apportionment calculations will also be more complex, particularly for those businesses that do not have a March year end.

Businesses selling directly to the end consumer will face price pressures to remain competitive, and it will therefore be interesting to see how many retailers and other suppliers will try to absorb part of the additional VAT cost to the benefit of their customers. 

When is the new rate applicable?

This might seem like a silly question; the new rate of 15% applies from 1 April, of course! However, tax is never that simple. Even after 1 April, there are circumstances where the applicable VAT rate will still be 14%, resulting in additional complexities and the necessity for systems that can deal with both rates for some time. Examples include:

  •  credit notes issued after 1 April 2018 for supplies made at 14% 
  • settlement and volume discounts 
  • bad debts written off and recovered

To complicate matters further, section 67A of the Value-Added Tax Act, 1991 (the “VAT Act”) contains complex rules governing the transitional period from the Budget announcement to 31 March 2018 which are dealt with below. Apart from clarifying which rate is applicable to specific supplies going forward from the Budget announcement, the transitional rules address the temptation to raise invoices now (at 14%) for supplies that will take place after 1 April, in order to avoid charging VAT at the higher rate.

Which VAT rate to apply in the transitional period

Goods are deemed to be provided by the supplier when:

(i) the goods are delivered to the recipient (arguably including physical and constructive delivery);

(ii) goods supplied under a rental agreement, when the recipient takes possession or occupation thereof; and

(iii) goods consisting of fixed property supplied by way of a sale, when the transfer thereof is effected by registration in a deeds registry.

Services are arguably deemed to be performed when they are actually or physically carried out or performed (ie, rendered).

In most instances, the normal time of supply rules in section 9 of the VAT Act apply to determine the time of supply for VAT accounting purposes; the general rule being that the supply takes place at the earlier of the issue of an invoice or the receipt of payment. Notwithstanding the general rule, there are specific rules applicable to fixed property transactions, rental and financial leases, construction contracts, inter-company supplies, among others.

However, the transitional rules set out below override the normal rules. 

As can be seen, in addition to the enormous amount of work to be done on systems and procedures before 1 April, consideration must be given to the applicable VAT rate for every agreement or contract entered into from 22 February.

It is also recommended that all existing contracts that provide for ongoing or periodic supplies of goods and/or services be reviewed for the implications of the VAT rate change. Corporate restructuring negotiations and transactions may be particularly vulnerable to the rate change where they have already been signed but delivery will only take place after 1 April 2018, due to various reasons, including obtaining relevant licences and approvals.