Debitoor's accounting dictionary
VAT number

VAT number – What is a VAT number?

A VAT number is a unique identification number that’s assigned to every business registered for VAT.

Do you have a VAT number? Find out more about VAT registration and Debitoor.

VAT numbers are used for tax purposes and are only given to businesses that are registered for VAT. As such, a VAT number is also commonly referred to as a VAT registration number or a VRN.

A VAT number is unrelated to a Unique Taxpayer Reference or a Company Registration Number, and it's possible to have more than one of these numbers.

Why do I need a VAT registration number (VRN)?

The purpose of a VRN is to help identify VAT-registered businesses; you therefore need a VAT number in a number of different tax-related situations.

VAT Returns and VAT numbers

If you’re registered for VAT, you need to report your VAT at regular intervals throughout the tax year, either manually through HMRC’s website or using authorised Making Tax Digital software.

When completing your VAT Return, you need to provide your VAT registration number so that HMRC can confirm the periods for which you need to report VAT and whether you have fulfilled your VAT reporting obligations.

Intra-community transactions and VAT numbers

If you have customers in other countries, the way you should handle VAT differs from when you sell to customers in your own country, and the specific rules depend on:

  • Whether you’re selling goods or services
  • Whether your customer is a business or a consumer
  • Whether the customer is based within the EU or in a third-party country.

If you sell goods to businesses in another EU country, you need to follow the reverse charge procedure, whereby VAT is recorded by the buyer instead of the seller. In order to zero-rate a sale to a business in the EU, you should confirm that they have a valid VAT number.

Similarly, if your business makes a purchase from another EU country, you need to provide a valid VAT number, otherwise you’ll be incorrectly charged VAT.

How to get a VAT number

When you register for VAT, you’ll be assigned a VAT number. Once you’ve completed the VAT registration process, you’ll be sent a VAT registration certificate that confirms your VAT number, the date of your first VAT Return, and your ‘effective date of registration’ (which is either the date your VAT taxable turnover crossed the VAT threshold or the date you requested to register voluntarily).

How to check a VAT number

If you use an incorrect VAT number, you shouldn’t follow the reverse charge procedure, and you might run into issues with your VAT Returns further down the line.

It’s therefore a good idea to double check that the VAT number is valid and accurate whenever you sell to a client who’s provided their VAT number, put your VAT number on an invoice, or give your VAT number to a supplier.

The easiest and most accurate way to check the VAT number of a business within the EU is to use VIES VAT number validation – the EU’s online system for checking VAT numbers.

VAT number format

The format, length, and structure of a VAT number varies from country to country. Within the EU, VAT registration numbers always start with two letters that refer to the country, which are followed by a sequence of numbers.

In the UK, a VAT number consists of the letters ‘GB’ followed by nine numbers. An example of a VRN that follows the UK VAT number format could be ‘GB123456789’.

The structure of VAT numbers in Ireland is slightly different to the UK VAT number format. In Ireland, VAT registration numbers consist of the letters ‘IE’ followed by eight numbers.

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