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Selling online? Here’s what you need to know about taxes

ByHarriette Bond

Nov 25, 2021

With online shopping becoming more and more popular, e-commerce and online business start ups are growing at a rapid rate. In fact, according to the Business Data Group, the UK’s e-commerce start-up sector is booming at levels not seen before.

Its research showed that in the week before the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown was announced, more than 500 e-commerce start-ups were formed. Five weeks later, that figure had risen exponentially to almost 1,300 e-commerce start-ups per week – around 800 more than the same week in 2019.

If you own an e-commerce business, or you’re thinking about starting one, then there are special rules and regulations for operating. Here, Zoe Gibbons, partner and e-commerce specialist at Perrys Chartered Accountants, explains what you need to know about selling online.

Do online sellers have to pay tax?

Setting up as an online business is a great way to keep overheads to a minimum and benefit from flexible working arrangements. However, like any other business, an e-commerce business will be subject to paying taxes.

If you are self-employed, including as an online seller, then you’ll need to complete an annual self-assessment tax return to disclose any income and expenditure and submit it online to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

However, there are some exceptions. For example, if you are selling items online and it is not part of a business activity, such as selling second-hand possessions on eBay, then you won’t need to pay tax. However, if you plan to do it regularly, this could count as a business even if you already have a job.

As of 2016, the Finance Act gave HMRC the authority to investigate selling sites of individuals who do not appear to be declaring income. This is assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Intention to make a profit as opposed to selling for fun or to raise emergency funds
  • Repetition of similar transactions over a short period of time
  • Borrowing money to fund transactions
  • Inability to prove items sold were pre-loved or used before being listed
  • Items sold at a fixed price in a similar way to other retailers
  • Limited time between purchase and selling of items
  • Modification of items in order to sell them for profit

How much can you sell online before paying tax?

If you’re hoping to make a small amount of money from selling online, then the good news is HMRC currently allows for £1,000 to be earned in sales before any tax is payable.

However, even if you’re selling online on platforms such as eBay, Depop and Gumtree, and you’re not a registered business, once you pass the £1,000 earnings threshold you may be liable for tax as a self-employed individual.

What taxes do online businesses need to pay?

Depending on how your business is set up, the following taxes may apply:

  • Income Tax
  • Corporation Tax
  • National Insurance
  • VAT
  • Employers’ PAYE
  • Business rates

It is recommended that you seek the advice of a professional accountant for any e-commerce business tax related matters.

Is there an online sales tax?

In March 2020, HMRC introduced the Digital Services Tax – a 2% tax on the revenues of search engines, social media services and online marketplaces, which derive value from UK users. The majority of businesses affected by this tax are large multi-national enterprises, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.

However, the UK Treasury is also investigating the options for introducing an online sales tax in response to the recent shift in shopping patterns and online consumer behaviour. Currently, it is considering a 2% online sales tax on e-commerce sellers and marketplaces.

This could mean that e-commerce businesses will need to pay 2% of tax on their online sales to UK customers.

Do you pay taxes when selling online to other countries?

If you sell goods online to customers who are overseas, then other considerations will apply. For example, your goods may require accompanying documentation and could be subject to customs duty and sales tax on arrival at their destination.

If you are in any doubt, then you should seek the assistance of a qualified accountant who has experience dealing with e-commerce businesses.