Various University departments receive income from the provision of conference facilities. The VAT treatment of this income varies dependent on details.
Additionally, University departments sometimes hire conference facilities from external providers, including Colleges. We are sometimes able to obtain VAT relief on these costs.
It is possible that running educational events overseas could result in VAT registration obligations in other countries, which is a highly undesirable outcome. It is vital to consider whether the activity you are organising might be caught be these rules, and if so, to contact the Tax Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) as early as possible to see if the arrangements can be restructured to properly avoid an overseas VAT obligation.
In order to be caught by this potential registration liability, you must be charging for “admission” to an “event” which takes place in an EU Country. See List of EU Member States (PDF)
First, determine whether the activity should be regarded as an “event” or not.
HMRC stipulates that conferences, symposia, seminars and lectures should all be treated as “events”. The VAT treatment will then depend on whether we are supplying “admission” to these events, or not (see below).
Longer courses involving coursework and self-study are unlikely to be treated as events.
HMRC describe an event as being “characterised by a gathering of people to watch or take part in an activity. The most common forms of events would be…conferences, exhibitions…It would also include...seminars. Another characteristic is that they are normally only supplied for a short or limited duration rather than ongoing basis. However, this does not preclude the fact that there may be a series of individual events on a related theme.
'It is often important to differentiate between an event and an activity itself. For example, seminars or conferences may have an educational nature and this may be the purpose behind those attending. Where these are of a singular nature or short duration, this does not preclude them from being an event. However, individual tuition or extended courses would clearly be supplies of education rather than events. It is therefore important to consider all of the relevant factors surrounding a supply when deciding whether a service is one of an event or activity. If the event itself is only a small or minor part of the supply then it may be considered to be incidental or ancillary to main element. For example, an education course may consist of extensive reading materials, marked assignments and examinations along with a number of classroom sessions. In this case the classroom session, which could potentially otherwise be seen as an event, would be seen as a non-dominant part of the overall supply of education.”
HMRC go on to give some examples of what constitutes an event:
- A university holding a three day symposium on particle physics. Although there is a clear academic and educational benefit, being akin to an educational seminar, it is held for a relatively short defined period. It would therefore be seen as an event.
- A training company running various five day workshops in customer service skills. Places on the courses are limited in numbers and are charged per person attending (although discounts are offered for groups).
- A professional institute decides to host a tax conference. Educational conferences are regarded as events.
Examples of activities that do not constitute an event to HMRC include:
- A university runs a yearlong course “Economics for Business”. The course involves an evening of lectures once a week along with submitted coursework and reading lists. As the course runs for an extended period of time, rather than short isolated instances, the supply would be seen as education rather than as an event.
- A training provider runs a “blended” learning course on project management skills. The course consists of a significant self-study e-learning package with a final classroom session and examination. Self-study packages do not involve a gathering of people to take part in an activity and so would not constitute as an event. Where self-study packages are blended with classroom sessions you should consider which part, if any, is dominant. Only where the classroom session is the dominant part of the service will the package be seen as an event.
HMRC consider that “admission” means that the main purpose of the payment is to enter the building to observe the event.
In some circumstances we may be receiving a payment for hosting the event, rather than receiving admission fees from attendees at the event.
If we organise an event but we make a single charge to a sponsor or similar, rather than making charges to the individual participants or attendees, then we are not making supplies of “admission”.
If the activity is an “event” (see above), the VAT treatment depends on whether you have supplied “admission” to the event (i.e. made a charge to/for those attending such as a registration fee or course fee) or have merely organised the event and been paid for this (e.g. a sponsor pays for the whole event which we have organised).
If we are not making supplies of “admission” but instead are organising or hosting an event for a sponsor or similar, then the VAT treatment will depend on whether or not the person/organisation paying us to organise or host the event is in business.
If the customer is a UK based business customer then the fee will be subject to standard-rated VAT, and if the customer is a non-UK based business customer the fee will be outside the scope of UK VAT. If the customer is not a business customer, then the services will usually be subject to standard-rated VAT.
HMRC provide examples of “admission” to events as follows:
- A university holds a three-day symposium on particle physics (see example 1 above). It charges for admission to attendees coming from international academic and business communities.
Although there is a clear academic and educational benefit, being akin to an educational seminar, it is held for a relatively short defined period. It would therefore be seen as an event and the admission charge would be supplied where the event takes place.
- A UK training company runs various five-day workshops in customer service skills (see example 2 above). Places on the courses are limited in numbers and are charged per person attending (although discounts are offered for groups).
A single customer wishes to purchase training for ten of its employees and books them onto a course where they are the only participants. As the training takes place over a short specific period of time and the workshop itself is the clear dominant element, this is would be seen as an event. This is essentially an educational seminar. Unlike example d below, the UK Company is providing spaces on a course rather than agreeing to host an event, despite having only a single customer.
Therefore the charge would be regarded as admission to an event.
- A professional institute decides to host a tax conference (as in example 3 above). Admission is only open to its members who must pay a set fee for each person attending. As educational conferences are regarded as an event, the supply by the institute to its member is a charge for admission and so would be supplied where the event takes place
An example provided by HMRC of where there is an event, but there are not supplies of admission is:
- A UK based training company wants to put on a tax conference in Germany. The company books the venue, buys in catering and provides the speakers. It then enters into an agreement with a German promoter who agrees to sell the tickets to the participants acting as a principal. It pays the UK training company on a sliding scale depending upon the number of people attending the event. The UK training company is making a supply to the German based promoter. Unlike example B above, this supply is the service of hosting an event. It is not selling the right of admission to participants. It is the German promoter who is selling admission to the conference.
If you are organising an event in another EU country and you think you will be receiving admission fees for the event (e.g. registration fees or course fees etc.) then please contact the Tax Team as early as possible to see if the arrangements can be restructured to properly avoid an overseas VAT obligation.