With the best will in the world, all businesses make mistakes. Sometimes 'it's a simple error, sometimes 'it's because something has changed that the business missed. As mentioned above, tax in the UAE keeps on changing and there are always new laws and clarifications to study and apply.
So if we accept that mistakes are a risk, what can be done to mitigate the risk? The answer lies in a regular review process that aims to identify the errors before the FTA carries out an audit. If that is done, the business will have an opportunity to make the necessary voluntary disclosures and keep any penalty down to the minimum. 'That's important because if the FTA finds the error during an audit, or after 'it's told you an audit is planned, the penalties are potentially much higher.
Some sort of review should be carried out at least once a year, and if the business has never reviewed 'it's VAT or excise declarations/returns since the taxes were introduced, it would be prudent to do it as soon as possible. Errors were very common during the early days of VAT, and we have seen many businesses exposed to big penalties when the FTA audits their early tax periods.
The review itself does not have to be time-consuming as long as it focuses on the basic principles and on the likely risk areas for the business concerned. For example, reviewing a reasonable sample of purchases will confirm whether proper tax invoices are always obtained and retained to support input tax deduction. A targeted sample of purchases will also show whether any non-deductibles, such as personal expenses, are finding their way into the input tax claim. Equally, reviewing a sample of sales will reveal whether VAT is being applied correctly and consistently, whether the date of supply is correct and whether the invoice meets the required standard. These are just examples, and simple review tests can be designed to check the important areas for the business concerned – whether it is imports, exports, partial exemption or anything else.
Reviews can be built into everyday business practices and do not always have to be a major undertaking. An in-house program of checking discrete areas over a period of time can be a good way of keeping on top of issues before they develop into a major problems. However, sometimes a full and deep review is required, and here, professional advice can be helpful as the advisor will be able to identify the key risk areas to focus on and will bring valuable experience to the exercise.