News & Articles


VAT registrations: How to solve a problem the HMRC way

by Ian Marrow

Through our own work and issues being reported by clients, the VAT registration section appears to be struggling to respond and deal with information on a timely basis.

The most common issue is that several weeks after applying for registration, HMRC sends out a questionnaire (often relating to goods and services) or asks for other information to evidence trading etc. They impose a deadline for the response which we (naturally) meet, but then they do not appear to have the resources to open, read, process the responses so that a few weeks after the deadline they write to tell us that we didn’t respond so that the application has been cancelled.

We have submitted several appeals to these cancellations, but the same lack of resources means it is unlikely that these will be dealt with within the 30-day deadline they have given.

There is the VAT registration helpline which if you’ve got an hour or so to spare you can call (but only one question per call which is rather frustrating when you have several clients with the same issue). The HMRC staff dealing with the calls often say that they will look to highlight the application in order speed up the process, but it seems that as the helpline is divorced from the registration section both in terms of geography and resource. A we know an email asking for an application to receive the attention it deserves does not get the same response as someone standing at the desk of the person processing the applications.

So, the processing function is struggling to meet self-imposed deadlines. Cynics may say that to meet statistical measures, sending out requests for further information shows that the application is being dealt with, but with no-one apparently available to deal with the responses it just adds to the time, and cost of what will ultimately be a refused application.

These delays are causing more and more people to turn to the helpline to find out what is happening with their applications and so overloading the helpline which, in happier, halcyon times was a back up for the minority of applications that suffered a delay.

So how to fix the problem? Earlier this year HMRC’s approach to the backlogs in their option to tax unit was to effectively stop interacting with the taxpayer. Since 1 February any option to tax application will not receive an acknowledgement or indeed any specific response (this seems to be the case even when there’s a demonstrable issue with the application, but perhaps it’s too soon). HMRC broke this news by issuing a document in January 2023 setting out this proposal and asking for responses. Within three weeks it was HMRC’s policy.

Now they’ve gone one better. On Wednesday 17 May, HMRC has announced that the helpline will close on Monday 22 May. Effectively giving two working days to get in touch with the helpline.

We will look to the professional associations we are members of to make representations to HMRC about this rather obtuse “solution”; but in the meantime, businesses currently trying to register or about to should be aware.

What should you do if you need to contact HMRC regarding VAT registration?

HMRC has advised traders to use the Where’s my reply online service instead (if they submitted a registration query within the last 40 working days).

Traders who need to check on the progress of their application (submitted more than 40 working days ago) should email HMRC via

For queries regarding the application itself, rather than processing times, traders can still contact the general VAT helpline on 0300 200 3700.

Find out more
If you have any questions about the above, or would like more information specific to your circumstances, please enter your email address below and we will get in touch:

Our Accreditations and Memberships