VAT invoices: what they must show

If you are registered for VAT, then whenever you supply goods or services to someone else who is also registered for VAT you must give them a VAT invoice.

This guide tells you what information must appear on VAT invoices, who you should issue them to and when you should issue them. It also explains when you can issue a simplified or modified VAT invoice, and when you must not issue a VAT invoice.

If you're VAT registered, you can normally only reclaim VAT on purchases made for your business when you have a valid VAT invoice for the purchase.

This guide tells you what are not valid VAT invoices and therefore cannot be used to reclaim VAT.

The guide also offers useful information about numbering your invoices, the details required on an invoice and how to deal with the VAT invoices you issue to international customers.

On this page:

What is a VAT invoice

A VAT invoice shows certain VAT details of a sale or other supply of goods and services. It can be either in paper or electronic form.

A VAT-registered customer must have a valid VAT invoice from the supplier in order to claim back the VAT they have paid on the purchase for their business – see the section in this guide on the need for a valid VAT invoice to reclaim VAT.

What is not a VAT invoice

The following are not VAT invoices:

  • pro-forma invoices
  • invoices that state 'this is not a tax invoice'
  • statements
  • delivery notes
  • orders
  • letters, emails or other correspondence

You cannot reclaim the VAT you have paid on a purchase by using these documents as proof of payment.

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What a VAT invoice must show

A VAT invoice must show:

  • an invoice number which is unique and follows on from the number of the previous invoice - if you spoil or cancel a serially numbered invoice, you must keep it to show to a VAT officer at your next VAT inspection
  • the seller's name or trading name, and address
  • the seller's VAT registration number
  • the invoice date
  • the time of supply (also known as tax point) if this is different from the invoice date - see below
  • the customer's name or trading name, and address
  • a description sufficient to identify the goods or services supplied to the customer
  • the rate of any cash discount
  • the total amount of VAT charged expressed in sterling

For each different type of item listed on the invoice, you must show:

  • the unit price or rate, excluding VAT
  • the quantity of goods or the extent of the services
  • the rate of VAT that applies to what's being sold
  • the total amount payable, excluding VAT

If you issue a VAT invoice that includes zero-rated or exempt goods or services, you must:

  • show clearly that there is no VAT payable on those goods or services
  • show the total of those values separately

If you make retail sales and you make a sale of goods or services for £250 or less including VAT you can issue a simplified VAT invoice – see the section in this guide on simplified VAT invoices.

Tax point or time of supply

The tax point, or time of supply, is the date when a sale is considered to take place for VAT purposes. There are rules that tell you if this is the date of the actual supply, the date of the invoice or some other date, depending on the circumstances.

It's important to put the right date for the time of supply on your invoice, because both you and your customer will need this information to make sure the VAT on the invoice is accounted for on the right VAT Return.

You must also issue invoices within a certain time of the actual supply taking place - see the section in this guide on time limits on issuing invoices.

Find out about the time of supply - when transactions take place for VAT purposes

If your customer pays in cash you must, if they ask you to, show on the VAT invoice that you have received payment and when you received it.

See an example of a VAT invoice in VAT Notice 700/21

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When a VAT invoice must be issued

If you are registered for VAT you must give any VAT-registered customers a VAT invoice for any standard-rated or reduced-rated goods or services you sell them.

If you are a retailer, you do not need to issue a VAT invoice or receipt unless your customer asks for one.

As a VAT-registered supplier, you may be liable to a fine if you do not issue a VAT invoice for a supply you have made when asked to do so by a VAT-registered customer.

There is a time limit within which VAT invoices must be issued - see the section in this guide on time limits for issuing VAT invoices.

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When a VAT invoice must not be issued

You must not issue a VAT invoice in the following situations:

  • you are not registered for VAT
  • you and your customer use self-billing arrangements or you use authenticated receipts - see the link below
  • you make a gift of goods on which VAT is due - see the link below
  • you are selling goods using the VAT margin scheme for second-hand goods - instead, there are different rules you must follow on your invoice - see the link below
  • you are selling goods using the Tour Operators' Margin Scheme
  • you are issuing a 'pro forma' invoice - see the section in this guide on pro-forma invoices

Find out more about self-billing and VAT
Find out about VAT on gifts
Find out about the second-hand goods margin schemes
Get information about the Tour Operators' Margin Scheme

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Pro-forma invoices

If you need to issue a sales document for goods or services you haven't supplied yet, you can issue a 'pro-forma' invoice or a similar document to offer goods or services to customers.

A pro-forma invoice is not a VAT invoice, and you should clearly mark them with the words 'This is not a VAT invoice'.

If your potential customer accepts the goods or services you're offering them and if you actually supply them, then you'll need to issue a VAT invoice within the appropriate time limit - see the section in this guide on time limits for issuing invoices.

If you've been issued with a pro-forma invoice by your supplier, you can't use that to claim back VAT on the purchase. You must obtain a VAT invoice from your supplier.

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Where simplified or modified VAT invoices can be issued

Simplified VAT invoices

If you make retail sales and you make a sale of goods or services for £250 or less including VAT, then when a customer asks for a VAT invoice, you can issue a simplified VAT invoice that only needs to show:

  • the seller's name and address
  • the seller's VAT registration number
  • the time of supply (tax point)
  • a description of the goods or services
  • for each VAT rate applicable, the total amount payable, including VAT and the VAT rate charged

Exempt supplies must not be included in this type of VAT invoice.

If you accept credit cards, then you can create a less detailed invoice by adapting the sales voucher you give the cardholder when you make the sale. It must show the information described in the 5bullets above.

You do need to keep copies of any less detailed invoices you issue.

Modified VAT invoices

If you sell goods or services for more than £250 including VAT, and your customer agrees, you may issue a modified VAT invoice showing the VAT-inclusive value of each standard-rated or reduced rate item.

The modified VAT invoice must show separately the total:

  • VAT-inclusive value of each standard-rated or reduced rate item
  • VAT payable on those items
  • value of those items excluding VAT
  • value of any zero-rated items included on the invoice
  • value of any exempt items included on the invoice

The modified invoice must otherwise show the details required on a full VAT invoice.

If you are unable to offer either a simplified or modified invoice, you must issue a full VAT invoice.

Get information about calculating VAT for VAT-inclusive amounts

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Electronic VAT invoicing

You can issue, receive and store your VAT invoices in electronic format. You don't need to tell HMRC if you plan to issue, receive and/or store invoices electronically.

Electronic invoices must contain the same information as paper invoices.

Find out more about issuing, receiving and storing VAT invoices electronically

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VAT invoices when trading internationally

You may issue VAT invoices (paper or electronic) to your customers in a foreign currency and/or in a foreign language if you want to. However, you must:

  • show the total VAT payable in sterling on your VAT invoice if the supply takes place in the UK
  • be able to provide an English translation of any invoice within 30 days if asked to do so by a visiting VAT officer

Find out about charging VAT on supplies of services abroad
Find out how to deal with transactions in other currencies

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Time limits for issuing VAT invoices

There is a strict time limit on issuing VAT invoices. You must normally issue a VAT invoice (to a VAT-registered customer) within 30 days of the date you supply the goods or services - or if you were paid in advance, the date you received payment. This is so your customer can claim back the VAT on the supply, if they're entitled to. You can't issue invoices any later without permission from HMRC except in a few limited circumstances.

For goods, the time when the goods are considered to be supplied is the date when one of these happens:

  • you send the goods to the customer
  • the customer collects the goods from you
  • the goods (which are not either sent or collected) are made available for the customer to use - for example, if you are assembling something on the customer's premises

For services, the date when the services are considered to be supplied is the date when the service is carried out and all the work - except invoicing - is finished.

Find more information on time limits for issuing VAT invoices

You need a valid VAT invoice to reclaim VAT

Even if you are registered for VAT, you can normally only reclaim VAT on your purchases if:

  • you buy an item and use it for business purposes
  • you have a valid VAT invoice for the purchase

Only VAT-registered businesses can issue valid VAT invoices. You cannot reclaim VAT on any goods or services that you buy from a business that is not VAT registered.

Get information about reclaiming VAT
Get information about when you can reclaim VAT and when you can't