Cross-border tax complexity cost UK retail businesses £414 million in lost revenue last year, according to new research commissioned by tax compliance technology company Avalara. from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr). The report finds that the stresses of navigating complex regulations post-Brexit continues to hold back growth for UK retailers and is causing significant anxiety for business leaders.
As the economy works to recover post-pandemic, many UK retailers remain optimistic for future European growth opportunities, with two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents stating they have plans to expand to at least one more EU market.
Yet, in practice, the weight of compliance burdens and the realities of sweeping EU tax reforms on sales from outside the bloc appear to be impacting these plans. Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of retailers currently exporting to the EU are planning to exit at least one EU market in the future, and 59 per cent revealed that the fear of being fined for tax compliance has recently caused them to reverse plans to sell goods in a European country.
With little set to change in terms of the levels of tax compliance obligations on UK exporters, the research predicts that the investment loss due to tax administration complexity is expected to result in a further £92 million of value lost to UK retailers by 2026.
The constant flow of new regulations and the increased amount of work to stay compliant is causing significant stress for retailers. In fact, for nearly 7 in 10 retailers (69 per cent), ensuring they remain compliant with tax obligations and regulations is the most stressful thing about running their business.
Other anxieties weighing on leaders’ minds include fear of legal consequences (44 per cent), fear of losing time needed for other tasks (44 per cent), fear of complex terms and conditions (38 per cent), and fear of fines (31 per cent).
For retail employees who work on tax compliance, the share of time spent on tax administration in the EU was 21.6 per cent. This time spent on tax administrative tasks has damaged productivity, with the research estimating that it caused a loss of £4 million in gross-value added (GVA) overall.
Alex Baulf, senior director of Global Indirect Tax at Avalara, said: “From the toll of Brexit-based regulation changes to the uncertainty of the pandemic — anxiety levels have been skyrocketing in the retail sector as tax complexity has become a major red tape headache during this critical time for retail recovery. The compliance burdens on UK retailers are becoming almost unmanageable, and the fear of falling foul of compliance standards is hampering growth opportunities for British exporters. Retail businesses need greater support from regulators to help them navigate these changes and must invest in digitisation to take more of the administrative and compliance burden away.”