This means that online companies such as AOL, Amazon and eBay must levy charges of between 15% and 25% on all software and music downloads and transactions as part of online auctions.
European companies have always added tax to services and products sold online, but companies from outside the trade bloc have been exempt, until now, giving them an advantage over EU firms. But European dotcoms have successfully lobbied to have such an advantage removed.
According to the legislation laid out by HM Customs and Excise: ‘Under the rules in force until 1 July 2003, most electronically supplied services, including digitised products, and all radio and TV broadcasting services, were subject to VAT in the country where the supplier belongs.’
But from 1 July: ‘The place of supply of electronically supplied services and radio and TV broadcasting services is normally in the country where the customer belongs subject, in certain circumstances, to where the services are effectively used and enjoyed.’
According to HMCE, ‘digital services’ affected by the law include: supply of websites or web-hosting services; downloaded software (including updates); downloaded images, text or information, including making databases available; digitised books or other electronic publications; downloaded music, films or games; electronic auctions; or internet service packages.
Although this does not affect physical goods, such as books or CDs, paid for online, the fallout has been enough to cause AOL to move its European offices to Luxembourg where the tax is cheaper.
Amazon has made a similar move. In an email sent to all marketplace sellers, it said: ‘As a result of this legislation, Amazon.co.uk will generally charge VAT on all marketplace, auctions and zShops seller fees charged on or after July 1, 2003….Accordingly, the Luxembourg VAT rate of 15% will apply to all such charges,’ it said.
Meanwhile, HMCE has launched a website specifically concerning VAT on e-services, available here: https://secure.hmce.gov.uk/ecom/voes
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