Uber's VAT-avoidance means it owes millions to EU states and will face huge cuts to future EU profits

The 2015 UK Employment Tribunal case that determined that Uber drivers were employees means that Uber will have to give the UK government 16.67% of its drivers' earnings for Value-Added Tax, going back four or more years (that would be £20M for 2015 alone); and the ruling will likely apply to Uber's EU-wide rules (because VAT rules are harmonized across the EU) — so not only does Uber owe hundreds of millions to EU governments for the past 4+ years' earnings, but it will face a 16.67% (or more) reduction to all future earnings.

As a reminder, Uber already subsidises 59% of the price of every ride, in a bid to force all other taxi and rideshare companies out of the market by using its investors' money. That's why the company lost $800 million in the last quarter.

The EU VAT rules mean that these numbers are set to skyrocket — hope Uber's investors are willing to keep paying for all of us to ride in their cars, because the company's going to need a lot more money to keep the lights on.

(4) output tax is the VAT you charge your customers. And input tax is the tax you are charged by your suppliers. It's the difference – the tax on the value that you add – that you hand over to HMRC. But does Uber have any input tax? Your employees don't charge you input tax. Uber might have some external costs on which VAT has been charged – but not many. On the assumption (see (1) and (2) above) that the VAT reality of Uber's business is that it is engaging drivers and supplying transport services to passengers, the vast majority of its expenditure will be the money it pays to drivers. But (with perhaps a tiny number of exceptions) drivers don't charge Uber VAT on their fares. Indeed, they are incentivised to earn less than the VAT registration threshold. If they earned more, they would have to hand over 16.67% of their profits to HMRC in VAT;

(5) if you assume that Uber has no material input tax to set against its output tax, that would mean that, of every £100 of fares Uber has collected, it has a liability to pay VAT to HMRC of £16.67. It seems as though Uber racked up about £115m in fares last calendar year. This would mean it had a VAT liability of just under £20m for London for that year. But HMRC can go back four years or, sometimes, more. There is no suggestion in the accounts of the relevant Uber entity – Uber London Limited – that it was aware it had this risk;

(6) but Uber's problems don't end there. It appears that the structure Uber uses in London is replicated across the EU. VAT should operate identically across the EU. And so, if the same structure is used, the VAT treatment of Uber's services for every other City in the EU should be identical to that in London. Different member states have different rates of VAT – and different rules for claiming unpaid VAT. But that £20m per annum for London just got an awful lot bigger;


[Jolyon Maugham/Waiting for Tax]

(via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Bubblegum / chicle, Geronimo De Francesco, CC-BY-SA)