What it’s like to be a VAT trainee

Hi, I’m Jen and I work in the Bristol office as an Associate in the VAT team. Not all offices have a VAT team as what we do is quite niche, so the team which sits in the Bristol office covers the Cardiff and Southampton offices too. I joined Grant Thornton with the graduate intake in August 2012 and it’s been a busy eleven months! 

My team is small, with four people in total, but as I alluded to we work regionally so we have a Senior Manager in the Southampton office and we also work with the teams based in Reading and Oxford. I love being part of a regional team as it means I get to work from different offices and do a bit of travelling – part of my job is to support our Senior Manager in Southampton once a fortnight and I often try to time my Southampton visit when he has an interesting meeting that I’d like to go along to.

So what do I actually do day-to-day? Well,  working in VAT is very different to being an Associate in  Audit or Corporate Tax as what we do in VAT is mainly advisory, as opposed to the traditional compliance based work of other departments. There is however some compliance work, ie completing VAT returns, which I often take responsibility for, but it’s not a massive part of what I do.  I have some clients whose VAT returns I complete every quarter, and they are all due at different times depending on which VAT quarters the business uses. I also do a bit of European compliance, mainly filling in an Intrastat form every month for one client which buys in goods from elsewhere in the EU.

That’s the more repetitive part of my job, and it isn’t at all boring as there will always be something different going on in the VAT returns meaning the way they need to be completed varies so much from client to client. However, the more interesting stuff is in the client-facing work I do.

There are a few different ways that our team gains work, and plenty which I can be involved with:

Firstly, we keep an eye out for changes in VAT legislation, and VAT tribunal cases that are going through the courts and we approach clients that could be affected and offer to advise them. It’s really important to be on the ball with this as other firms can swoop in and be the first to pass on new developments if we’re not careful!

Next,  we use our internal network. Our colleagues in other departments will let us know if they have a client with a VAT issue that needs some advice, and similarly we can let them know if there’s a new development which may be relevant for their clients.

Thirdly, we have a few annual retainer clients where we have a contract with to advise on a continuous basis meaning they can approach us with a query at any time. These will be clients for whom VAT often throws up some question marks, such as charities or education providers. We also keep our annual retainer clients updated of new developments in the VAT world by preparing VAT updates for them.

Finally, we attend a number of business development events. The BD team in Bristol have always got something going on, so we keep a look out for events that are being held that we can go along to. These will often just be networking events and we may not have done any VAT work for the people that attend, but it can be great to make connections and see if there are any opportunities for us.

One of the best bits about working in such a small team as I do is that I get to see these sorts of projects through from start to finish, so I could have been the one to spot the new case decision being released, be invited along to the initial client meeting, help complete the work, and even be the one to raise a bill for the client when we’re done. It’s great to be able to exert such ownership over an important project.

So how do we actually do our work? It’s really about having a VAT question, doing some research, and providing a clear response to the client, although the research part can be a long process! We start with the VAT legislation (which is often tricky to interpret) and use HMRC’s guidance, books and online tools to find the answers, however often we’ll need to go back to the client for more information to ensure we get a full picture of their individual VAT situation.

So that’s the end of my whistle-stop tour of the life of a VAT trainee. I should add that what I do can be word-heavy; I’m often writing long emails or letters to a client to answer their queries. That being said, there are a lot of computations on the compliance side of things for which I have prepared some complicated excel spread sheets at times, so there’s no saying that VAT doesn’t provide variety.

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