VAT officer
Inspection & Standards

VAT officers work for HM Revenue & Customs. They are responsible for the collection of VAT for the government. They visit business premises to check that the owners are accounting for VAT correctly and understand the laws. VAT officers collect debts and register new businesses. They could be involved in the prosecution of traders who are suspected of VAT fraud.

Work Activities

Value Added Tax (VAT) is a government tax that businesses have to charge when they supply their goods and services. VAT applies to most goods, but some are zero-rated, for example, books, newspapers and some food items.

If the value of goods or services supplied by a business each year is over a certain amount of money, the business has to be 'VAT registered', unless the goods are free from VAT.

Businesses charge VAT to their customers on what they sell, but also pay VAT to their suppliers for what they buy. They take away the amount of VAT they've paid from the amount they've received, and pay the balance to HM Revenue & Customs. If they've paid more than they've received, they can claim a refund.

Businesses send this information in a 'VAT return'. These payments and refunds, and the records that relate to them, are the things that VAT officers are responsible for checking.

Officers are often responsible for monitoring businesses within a particular local area. Their caseloads can include a very wide variety of businesses, ranging from self-employed sole traders to large national companies. Businesses can send in their VAT returns electronically, if they wish.

Officers visit, on average, about four companies a week. Each case could take anything from a few hours to several days or weeks, depending on the complexity of the business. Usually, VAT officers make visits on their own, but sometimes they go in pairs or even small teams.

They usually arrange appointments in advance, letting the business know which records they will need to see and who they want to speak to. Sometimes, they make unannounced visits. Officers visit businesses that have submitted late or incorrect returns more often than other businesses.

VAT officers examine records and systems, question the person responsible for VAT returns and observe business activity. The responsible person might be the owner, a director or member of staff, or a professional accountant or tax adviser. They sometimes inspect goods on the premises. They do this to make sure that the records are correct and up to date.

VAT officers might need to make adjustments to the amount of VAT owed as a result of their visit and investigations. They must explain the reasons for their decisions. They can also advise on the rules and how to improve their systems. If the VAT officer cannot conduct the interview during business hours, they might have to arrange an evening appointment. When they return to the office, VAT officers have to summarise each visit in a report. Businesses can appeal against the decisions of the officer if they wish.

Some officers work in 'intelligence' or 'investigations' sections. They receive referrals from officers who think that a business is deliberately not paying the right amount of VAT.

During an investigation, VAT officers interview the trader. If they admit to the fraud and co-operate fully, the officer might be able to resolve the case there and then. If not, they must gather the necessary evidence to prove the fraud.

This could involve interviewing customers of the business and taking their statements. VAT officers have a legal power to enter and inspect premises, inspect and remove records and to take samples of goods. They might then have to go to court to give evidence against the business.

Some VAT officers work in 'missing trader' sections, tracking down people who owe VAT, but have stopped trading and moved away to avoid prosecution.

Senior officers have a wide range of duties, including researching and analysing policy options, and developing and managing projects. They might manage departments and generally support the work of government ministers. Later in their careers, they could conduct major enquiries or take the lead in drafting government policy.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Pay And Opportunities

VAT officers are civil servants who work for HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Opportunities for VAT officers occur in government offices in some towns and cities around the UK.


The usual minimum requirement for direct entry to officer level is:

  • 2 A levels
  • GCSEs at grade C or above in 3 other subjects
  • 2 of the GCSE passes must be in English Language and Maths.

Other qualifications, such as an Edexcel (BTEC) Level 3 National qualification, might be acceptable.

People working at assistant officer level could have some VAT responsibilities. The usual entry requirement is 5 GCSEs at grade C or above (or equivalent), including English Language and Maths.

Some regions only recruit at administrative assistant level. The usual entry requirement is GCSEs in English Language and Maths at grade C or above. Some regions offer a written test or take into account relevant work experience.

To apply for the Civil Service Fast Stream development programme, you'll need at least a second class honours degree or equivalent.

Entry requirements for degrees vary so it is important to check with individual universities.

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