VAT and holding a conference or exhibition in the UK

29 Sep 2023

VAT on conference

With the world recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of in-person conferences taking place in the UK has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels, with a significant volume of delegates visiting from overseas.

Growing optimism in the sector has also resulted in an increase of capital investments by conference venues in their facilities. Here are some of the VAT points to consider when hosting an in-person conference or exhibition in the UK.

VAT is due on charges for admission to a conference or exhibition in the country where the event takes place, regardless of where the organiser is from or if the attendee is in business or an individual.

Whilst there are slightly different rules for admission granted to individuals for events which are ‘cultural, artistic, sporting, scientific, or educational’ in nature, and admission granted to businesses, they generally result in UK VAT being accountable on the entry fee if the in-person event is being held in the UK.

Accounting for VAT in the UK

Both resident and non-resident businesses (which would include membership organisations) holding events in the UK that require an admission fee to be paid will have VAT reporting obligations and the opportunity to reclaim VAT on associated costs. However, for non-residents the UK VAT registration threshold does not apply, and they’d need to register prior to any admission fees being received. Also, if the UK event is a one-off, they’d deregister for VAT once all VAT reporting on relevant transactions had been completed. As mentioned, the money received from delegate entry fees is subject to VAT regardless of where the attendees are based or usually reside.

A VAT registration may not be required if a UK agent is engaged to sell the tickets, and, if correctly set up, would allow the UK agent to account for VAT on the admission income in the UK. The agent’s supply to the event organiser wouldn’t be subject to the rules for place of supply of admission, and the general rule for business-to-business (B2B) services would apply.

The VAT position of certain supplies depends on where the organiser ‘belongs’ for VAT and this will not always be in the UK, even if the event if being held here. For example, a non-resident organiser not established in the UK but registered for VAT here on account of granting admission to a UK event, will not charge UK VAT on a supply of the right to sponsor to a business similarly established outside the UK.

What about supplies that are not admission to the event?

It’s recommended that when planning an event, all the income streams associated with the event are mapped out and the VAT treatment determined in advance to ensure the correct treatment is applied.

Where an entity is paid to organise an event but doesn’t receive the admission income (ie is not the party granting the right of admission), its supply is covered by the general rule so that, if the recipient of the service is in business, VAT is due where the recipient belongs. If the recipient belongs in the UK and the event organiser does not, the recipient will be responsible for UK VAT under the reverse charge mechanism.

If the recipient belongs outside the UK, the supply is not subject to VAT in the UK and the recipient will account for any VAT due in its own country. If the recipient is not in business, and the event organiser belongs in the UK then UK VAT will be due on the supply, regardless of where the customer belongs. This same logic applies to the organisation of an event for a single customer where there is no charge for admission, for example, a company hosting a conference for its staff.

Event organisers will often offer sponsorship and exhibiting packages to third parties. Again, the VAT position of such supplies will depend on where the supplier and sponsor/exhibitor are established for VAT purposes, and the status of the recipient as a business.

It’s also important for businesses to consider whether they are bundling any event/conference related supplies together that could then mean that the supply falls under the Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme (TOMS). TOMS can be complex and therefore if the conference provider is thinking about bundling, for example hotel accommodation, gala dinners, and airport transfers in with the admission to the conference, advice should taken to ensure the structure in place is VAT efficient.

VAT on costs incurred in arranging the event

A venue in the UK hosting an exhibition or conference will charge UK VAT on the hire of the venue and related services (catering etc). If the conference organiser is registered for VAT in the UK, the VAT on these costs can be recovered on the UK VAT return.

Other costs incurred in the UK by the event organiser will also be subject to VAT if the recipient of those costs is established in the UK and this VAT is recoverable. If the organiser of the event is a non-resident and not established in the UK, then many supplies will not be subject to VAT in the UK.

If the conference organiser is based outside the UK, other costs such as event planning, advertising, website design etc will not be subject to UK VAT but reverse charge VAT may need to be applied through the VAT reporting of the organiser in their own jurisdiction.

Final thoughts

This article explores relatively complex VAT rules regarding in-person events and conferences. Further complexities arise for hybrid events where there is an element delivered online, either live or on-demand, or for events which are entirely delivered virtually. In these instances, it’s equally important to understand the relevant VAT rules, where VAT needs to be charged and brought to account with respect to the income streams, when to expect to pay VAT on associated costs, and what that VAT is recoverable or not and if so, the process for reclaiming it.

Regardless of the type of event being run, it’s recommended that specialist advice is sought well in advance of event registrations going live.

If you have any queries on the VAT considerations of holding a conference or exhibition in the UK, please speak to Wendy Andrews.

Contact Us

Wendy Andrews
Director, London

Key experience

Wendy is a Director in the VAT Advisory Team and advises clients on issues including charity/not for profit VAT, international...