In All Answers Limited v HMRC [2023] TC08920, the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) found that a company using third-party writers to supply bespoke academic work to individuals was not acting as an agent. VAT was due on the full amount paid by the customer. 

  • All Answers Limited (All Answers) operated a largely internet-based business which allowed customers to order academic work, such as essays or dissertations, or to obtain feedback on their own written work.
    • The work was performed by individuals from a pool of writers, typically third-party lecturers, teachers and PhD students, who were not employees of All Answers.
  • Other than in exceptional circumstances, customers and writers were not aware of each other’s identities.
  • All Answers generally retained around two-thirds of the fee paid by the customer, with the writer being paid the balance.
  • All Answers argued that it was acting as the writer’s Agent in relation to the supply of the academic work meaning that it did not have to account for VAT on the supply made by the writer to the customer (around one-third of the total).
    • HMRC’s position was that All Answers made a Single standard-rated supply of academic work to its customers as Principal and should account for VAT on the whole sum received.

In July 2020, the Upper Tribunal (UT) published its decision in respect of this issue, agreeing with HMRC’s stance.

  • In September 2020, All Answers provided HMRC with revised contracts which it considered to be consistent with the Agency relationship on which it based its VAT analysis.
  • These updated contracts were entered into by All Answers from October 2016. They made changes:
    • To the effect that the copyright remained with the writer.
    • To attempt to bring into existence a separate contract between a writer and customer.
      • The old contracts stated that when a project was allocated to a writer, this was "a binding contract for services".
      • The revised contracts appended this with “between yourself and the customer”.
  • All Answers Appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) against VAT assessments totalling £419,000 for VAT periods from 12/16 onwards on the basis that the earlier UT decision only applied to the pre-October 2016 contracts.

The FTT found that:

  • The core obligations to deliver the academic work to the necessary standard and by the relevant deadline were imposed on All Answers only. This had not changed.
    • The copyright remaining with the writer did not provide a sufficient basis to depart from the UT’s conclusion.
  • The addition of the words ‘between yourself and the customer’ was insufficient to bring into existence a separate contract between a writer and customer.
    • It did not explain the offer and acceptance that could lead to such a contract or what the terms of such a contract would be.
  • The terms of the legal relationship were consistent with the commercial and economic reality.
    • This had also not changed; All Answers was making a supply of academic work to the customer.

The appeal was dismissed.

Useful guides on this topic

Agents and principals
What is an agent for VAT purposes? What is a principal? When do the agency rules apply? 

Education & VAT
What rate of VAT applies to education? What sort of services are classed as education? What do you do if you have multiple supplies including education? What cases are there on VAT and education?

Appeals: VAT
How do I appeal a VAT penalty?  How can I request a Statutory Review? How do I appeal an HMRC decision? 

A beginner's guide to VAT
VAT: Where do I start? What is VAT? Who has to register for VAT? What rate should I charge? How do I calculate VAT? When are my VAT filing obligations? 

External link

All Answers Limited v HMRC [2023] TC08920

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