Think of a number …

It must now fork out £12m (£5m plus interest) to refund the high-street favourite for VAT overpaid on biscuits, teacakes, bottled water and gift vouchers dating back to 1973 when VAT was first introduced – a figure that equates to almost £500,000 a year. One has to wonder who was doing the sums at Customs over the years.

But this could only be the tip of the iceberg for the beleaguered VAT experts at Customs – the decision in M&S’s favour means that businesses of all types can now seek recompense for overpaid VAT dating back as far as 1973. Customs can now expect claims from businesses including opticians, motor dealers, universities and local authorities, not to mention other supermarkets and food vendors. Experts are expecting the bill to run into the millions of pounds.

Sadly for Customs, it cannot even take solace in a retrospective concession for its own VAT collectors.

The European Court of Justice ruled that while Customs must allow VAT claims dating as far back as 1973, its own VAT assessment officers cannot seek unpaid VAT going back more than three years.

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