RYA and British Marine challenge HMRC's post-Brexit plans for private pleasure craft

25 Feb 21
Yacht with reefed sails taken off starboard bow

Since well before the Withdrawal Agreement was ratified at the beginning of 2020, the RYA and British Marine (BM) have been working to establish what the future holds for recreational boaters now that the transition period has ended and to clarify what measures the Government intends to put in place for VAT, import duty, Returned Good Relief (RGR) and Temporary Admission (TA).

RYA and BM have over many months endeavoured to engage with various HMRC policy teams to provide sector knowledge and experience to address the issues of concern and develop workable guidance. They have this week written to the Chief Executive of HMRC calling for a holistic approach from the Department and reconsideration of fundamental issues that are increasingly presenting adverse impact for private pleasure boaters, the second-hand boat market, and the UK marine industry as a whole. The letter outlines the key principal issues and offers workable solutions. 

The letter seeks reconsideration of the one-year period of grace granted in October 2020 by HM Treasury in respect of the three-year condition for RGR, which fails to understand the many factors that affect the repatriation of vessels, including, global pandemic travel restrictions, the Schengen area immigration restrictions, insurance restrictions and the length of sailing season. RYA and BM believe an extension to 3-years is needed to recognise this and the restrictions of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Incorrect advice was provided by HMRC on VAT relief in April 2019 and again on 3 November 2020; this was only corrected on 17 December 2020; this has resulted in boat owners having insufficient warning that they would be liable for VAT on import from 1 January 2021 if they had never owned their boats in the UK. The RYA and BM believe that it is unreasonable for the Government to take its citizens and residents out of the EU and not let them repatriate their boats to the UK as part of the ‘withdrawal package’. This penalises UK citizens and residents unnecessarily due the ‘one size fits all’ approach that has been taken to replicating EU returned goods relief in UK law and does not recognise the freedoms we had as EU citizens. 

The letter also calls for HMRC to make clear what the status is of boats that were lying in Northern Ireland at the end of the transition period and what the reporting requirements are for boaters to satisfy the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. 

Howard Pridding, RYA Director of External Affairs, said: “Following months of dialogue with officials and exchanges with ministers at HMRC, we are now appealing directly to the Chief Executive of HMRC to bring coordination to urgently address the outstanding issues and deliver clear and unambiguous guidance that we can share with our members. 

“Up until 31 December 2020, UK nationals have used their boats in Europe, travelling around EU27 countries, exercising their right to freedom of movement and complying with Union goods and VAT requirements. Boat owners do not see their boats as goods that have been exported and imported. They are personal possessions that they have used as a means of transport to travel in a private capacity.”

Lesley Robinson, CEO at British Marine, commented: “The fact that UK citizens will not want to bring their vessels back to the UK to sell them due to the risk of having to pay VAT, thus creating a situation where all second-hand boats coming from the EU will be 20% more expensive, will have a dramatic impact not only on boat sales in the UK, but more importantly on jobs. Our latest letter sets out a reasonable and sensible solution to the situation and, alongside the RYA, British Marine will continue to represent the best interests of our members and the marine industry.”

If you are a RYA member and have any questions regarding this or any other current affair issues, please visit the Current Affairs page on the RYA website or email: cruising@rya.org.uk.