Question: Why it is important to differentiate between items that are zero-rated for VAT and those that are exempt?
Although both zero-rated and exempt supplies result in no VAT being applied to the supply, the consequence is very different between them and it is important to get it right.
Zero-rating is a rate of VAT, albeit at zero per cent. The goods and/or services to which it applies are taxable supplies. This in turn renders any supplier of zero-rated goods and/or services liable to register for VAT, where appropriate (see the GOV.uk website at www.gov.uk/vat-registration for further information on registration). The advantage of VAT registration is that VAT can be reclaimed on costs.
However, a business making solely exempt supplies is not making taxable supplies, so cannot register for VAT. Consequently, all VAT incurred upon expenditure becomes an additional irrecoverable cost.
Where a supply could be either zero-rated or exempt, zero-rating takes priority.