HMRC have published a Brief which advises that ‘snowballs’ are zero rated for VAT purposes.
Following the decision of the First Tier Tribunal HMRC have issued guidance on the VAT treatment of ‘snowballs’. The case concerned the VAT liability of this food item and whether or not it was confectionary (standard rated) or a cake (zero-rated). The ‘snowballs’ considered were those manufactured by Lees of Scotland and Thomas Tunnock Ltd which are a dome of marshmallow covered with sugar strands and a chocolate, carob, cocoa or coconut coating with or without a jam filling.
Both manufacturers had challenged a previous ruling that ‘snowballs’ were standard rated confectionery by claiming they were also cakes and submitted voluntary disclosures for VAT they claimed was overcharged. HMRC disagreed with this view and so the matter was decided by the First Tier Tribunal.
The Tribunal considered what factors should be considered when identifying whether a product is a cake and weighed the relevant factors in the balance. The Tribunal did not dispute that snowballs are confectionery however they accepted they do have sufficient characteristics of a cake for them to be characterised as a cake, which means they are zero rated for VAT purposes.
HMRC have accepted that decision and will be updating their guidance in respect of this type of snowball in due course.
In limited circumstances suppliers of these products may be entitled to a refund however this claim would be subject to the ‘unjust enrichment’ rules and the 4 year cap in line with normal HMRC procedures.
This case helps to illustrate how important it is to get the VAT treatment right. Please do get in touch for advice on VAT issues.