This happens seemingly every time I ask for a quote from a tradesperson:

Trades: The cost of the project is £nnnn.

Me: Is that with VAT included, not included or not applicable?

Trades: No VAT

Me: 😕

So then I have to ask:

Me: Sorry - do you mean VAT isn't included, or it's not applicable?

How can I more reliably avoid this follow up question?

(Feel free to suggest a better, more general title for this question, obviously this isn't really about sales tax!)

My question is how to phrase the question to get to an unambiguous answer faster.

  • Hmmm - not sure if I agree with the formatting change. It's now more difficult to read. Not semantically code, sure, but I was using a monospaced font to lay out the conversation like a script. – Dan Gravell Apr 12 at 11:08
  • "Does that include VAT and, if not, is that because it is not applicable?" – user323578 Apr 12 at 11:31
  • You can't. Unless you already know if an item has to have VAT charged (in which case, you'll already know that when they say no VAT, they mean there is VAT but they haven't quoted it). If you don't know if an item has to have VAT charged, then , unless they volunteer the information, you must ask two questions—assuming you ask them in this order: (1) Does that include VAT?; (2) Is VAT charged on this item? If you reverse the order of the questions, and the answer to Is VAT charged on this item? is negative, then only that question is necessary. But it would be unusual to ask that first. – Jason Bassford Apr 12 at 14:03
  • And, actually, the question is about sales tax. Because if you already know what items do and don't require sales tax, you won't need to ask about VAT at all, if it's at item you know doesn't have it. And if it is one that has it, no VAT will be satisfactory because you'll know how much more the VAT would add. – Jason Bassford Apr 12 at 14:09

and welcome to EL&U. One way to ask this "Is that the price without VAT?". You might still get the answer "No VAT" but that indicates either a lack of understanding of VAT on the part of the tradesperson or, more likely, poor communication skills on their part. If you get an ambiguous answer like that you are entitled to ask for clarification.

It is always possible, of course, that the tradesperson is either newly established or has a low turnover. Either of those circumstances would mean that they do not have to be registered for VAT so their prices are VAT free. This is particularly the case where their trade involves being paid for the work rather than for materials and equipment as the turnover threshold is high enough for a sole trader to make a living without having to get involved in VAT. Some tradespeople deliberately keep their turnover down to avoid registration.

Whatever the reason for getting the answer "No VAT" you are entitled to ask "Why's that then?"

  • Oh yes, I agree this exchange is an example of poor communication skills. My question is how to phrase the question to get to an unambiguous answer faster. I want to avoid having to ask for clarification, and I wonder if there are general rules for a three-state answer like this, where two of the states have similar descriptors (in this case, not applied, and not applicable). – Dan Gravell Apr 12 at 11:10

You probably need to be more specific in what you ask for when you contact the supplier and request a quote.

When you are a private consumer you typically can't reclaim V.A.T. and will likely want to request:

"a quote that includes all (delivery charges,) applicable tariffs, duties and taxes".

In Business to Business (B2B) transactions a V.A.T. registered business can usually reclaim any V.A.T. paid over their purchases and the relevant business cost is the one without V.A.T.
Depending on both the size of your business and the kind of goods and services you buy accounting rules may require invoices with a very detailed breakdown of how and what you are charged for. You probably want the quote that you request to contain similar detail.
You need the vendor to send you:

"an itemized quote that includes the specification of the goods, services and all applicable delivery and other charges, tariffs, duties and VAT"

  • Thanks - that's a good point about the importance of phrasing the request explicitly even before the exchange in the OP. – Dan Gravell Apr 12 at 11:12

As you've indicated, there are three possible scenarios:

  1. VAT is included in the quoted price.
  2. VAT will be added to the quoted price.
  3. VAT is not applicable.

But, all you really what to know is whether the quoted price is final (scenario 1 or 3), or whether tax will be added (scenario 2). So any of these questions should give you a yes/no answer:

  • Is that the gross / total / final cost?
  • Is that price / figure all-inclusive?
  • Will VAT be additional to that figure?
  • Could there be any extras added to that price?

Does the cost of the project include VAT and all applicable fees? or Does this cost include VAT and all applicable fees? Also cost and price are not the same. Since the question is about cost of a project, vs. price of the goods, V.A.T might not be even applicable to service vs. goods. Value is usually added in the process of manufacturing, not performing a service ( project). I don’t know the 🇬🇧 tax law though.

  • I tend to think the answer to that will still be... "No VAT". – Dan Gravell Apr 12 at 12:19
  • I agree with @DanGravell. There are 3 options: 1. VAT is included; 2. VAT will be added to the quoted price; 3. VAT is not applicable. – TrevorD Apr 12 at 18:49

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