How to register for VAT: complete guide

A step-by-step guide to the VAT registration process, from creating an account with HMRC online to reclaiming on your previously purchased goods and services.

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The process of registering for VAT for the first time can have a few potentially confusing points – and timescales which may concern you if you feel your registration is overdue. That’s why it’s worth understanding the steps involved so you can proceed with confidence.

Registering for VAT (or value added tax) is essential if your business’ taxable turnover exceeds the 2022 taxable turnover – which currently stands at £85,000.

You can register for VAT voluntarily, if you predominantly work with businesses who are already registered. Why do this? Because, any VAT they are charged can be recovered.

If you think you will need to get registered for VAT soon – or if you are just curious about the process for the future – then this article will help you gain the confidence you need to get started, avoid the common pitfalls and mistakes that may cause disruptions in your business, and cover everything you need to know to successfully register for VAT.

VAT registration – how to get started

Stick with us in our guide and we’ll talk you through all the stages, including:

Cost of VAT registration

There is no VAT registration cost – the whole process of registering for VAT on the HMRC website is free.

However, when it comes to filing your VAT return, there are optional ways of doing it that can add to your costs.

If you wish to contract an accountant to complete your return you’ll be paying for their professional services, or if you want to file your own VAT return, it’s helpful to use some quality accounting software. These methods will ensure you are compliant with the Making Tax Digital (MTD) legislation, released in April 2022, which compels UK businesses to keep digital records of their VAT accounting.

The good news is you don’t have to spend much for high quality accounting software.

See our guide to the best small business accounting software for more – we’ve found great accounting tools starting from only £8 per month, plus free options.

What documents and records you’ll need to become VAT registered

Before you begin, you will need the following information to hand in order to register for VAT:

  • National Insurance (NI) number or ‘tax identifier’ – a unique taxpayer’s reference
  • Certificate of incorporation/incorporation details
  • Details of all associated businesses within the last two years
  • Business bank account details
  • Details of the business that has been transferred (acquired), if appropriate

There are currently two ways to register for VAT: online or via a paper form. However, the process will require you to finish registration online, even if you begin with a paper form – we’ll explain why, below.

Can you register for VAT with a paper form?

There are several instances where you may register using form VAT1 which is available for download from HMRC’s website. These include:

  • If you need to apply for a ‘registration exception’
  • You’re registering several divisions or business units under different VAT numbers
  • You’re joining the Agricultural Flat Rate Scheme

However, even if you begin this process with a paper form, you’ll have to head online to complete it.

All newly VAT-registered businesses are required to submit their VAT returns and any VAT payments electronically – HMRC is paperless in this regard. This has been the case since April 1 2012, when it was extended to virtually all VAT-registered businesses, not just newly registered ones.

Registering for VAT online

All UK business owners can register for VAT online at HMRC’s website, (unless you have unusual circumstances, for example if you trade internationally).

If you are in a partnership, your nominated partner can use HMRC’s online system to register – or a business group, as long as you are using one VAT number.

In order to gain access to the VAT online services, you must first have registered for an HMRC Online Services / Government Gateway account.

Registering with HMRC Online Services or Government Gateway

HMRC online services is where you can register for VAT as well as a number of other services. It is also known as the Government Gateway, and you can use either to login to the same services respectively.

To register, you’ll need to navigate to the HMRC Online Services page and click the green button to begin.

You’ll get a 12-digit activation code within 10 days of enrolling for your new online account (or up to 21 days if you live abroad).

Next steps for beginning your VAT registration

Once you’ve received your activation code, you’ll be able to log in with it into your own private VAT dashboard and view your VAT’s status, manage your account, track your records, see your upcoming important deadlines and dates, as well as apply for and view your VAT certificate online once you receive it, which we’ll be talking about in more detail below.

Applying for your VAT Certificate Of Registration

A VAT certificate (also known as VAT4) is an incredibly important document that HMRC provides to confirm that your business is officially registered for VAT. The certificate includes a number of important information including your unique VAT number and your date of registration.

Once you have registered for VAT, whether that’s online or using the paper form, you can expect to receive your VAT registration certificate within one month of submitting your application. However, the vast majority of businesses don’t have to wait that long, with 70% of applications getting their certificate within just 10 working days.

Next Steps for Registering for VAT Online Services

Once your VAT certificate has come through, you can take the next steps in registering with HMRC online. To do this, you’ll need the following three pieces of information about your business:

  • Your VAT registration number
  • The postcode of your principal place of business (if you’re an overseas business, you can use postcode AB10 1ZP – which is valid for persons with no place of business in the UK.)
  • Your effective date of registration for VAT

You will be able to find these three pieces of information on your VAT certificate.

You’ll also be prompted to add the final month of the last VAT return you submitted, and your “Box 5” figure (which would be your VAT due minus any instalments you’ve already made for the period). But, the answers to both of these would be “N/A” or 0.00 if the business has just been newly VAT-registered.

VAT Registration Confirmation

Although there is no official email confirmation sent from HMRC, if you are using accounting software you should be notified of completion. 

Then, once you have your certificate and can access your account to be able to send your VAT returns annually – you will know that you’ve successfully completed the process.

The only thing you will have to remember to do after this point is to send in your VAT returns annually. (Be sure to check your VAT return submission and payment deadlines in your HMRC online account.)

Can you reclaim VAT on purchases made before registering?

Once the business is VAT-registered, you may be able to recover some previous VAT you’ve incurred. But the time limits and conditions differ depending on whether you’re dealing with goods or services:


You can reclaim VAT on goods you bought or imported up to four years before you were registered if all of the following apply to the goods:

  • They were bought by you as the entity that is now registered for VAT
  • They are for your VAT taxable business purposes
  • They are still held by you or they have been used to make other goods you still hold

HMRC recommends that you record the transactions like any other present-day transaction, and if they are goods, the department suggests that you also keep details of stock-take, usage and expiration.


You can reclaim VAT on services you bought during the six months before you registered for VAT if both of the following are true:

  • The services were bought by you as the entity that is now registered for VAT
  • The services were for your VAT taxable business purposes

Both goods or services are expected to have VAT invoices, and the VAT element recovered will be based on the amount shown on the invoices – not on the current rates of VAT.

Not sure if you need to register for VAT? Check out part one of this guide for more details on the VAT threshold and When do you need to register for VAT?

Registering for VAT – FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Does it cost to become VAT registered?
    There is no cost – registering for VAT on the HMRC website is free.
  • At what point does a company pay VAT?
    You have to pay VAT if your business' taxable turnover (not profits) exceeds £85,000.
  • Does a small business need to be VAT registered?
    Small businesses only need to register if their annual turnover rises above the VAT threshold, but you can register voluntarily at any time.
  • Do you need to register for VAT as a sole trader?
    Similar to small and other sized businesses, you will only need to register if your business turnover exceeds the annual VAT threshold. is reader supported – we may earn a commission from our recommendations, at no extra cost to you and without impacting our editorial impartiality.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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