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The Inland Revenue is watching the growth of ebay traders

Last updated: 01 April 2022

The Inland Revenue is watching the growth of ebay traders

The Inland Revenue is watching the growth of eBay traders with great interest, since reports that over 50,000 Britons earn income from online auctions. Many innocent individuals do not realise that what they thought of as a hobby is actually a trade and the tax office will want its slice of profit. Although trading on eBay is a cheap, easy and appealing way to do business online, the fact is that tax, accounting and legal issues are the same as any other business. The tax office will look at the number of feedbacks to determine whether an individual is a trader and there is likely to be a surge of investigations.

So, if you start an eBay business, or use it frequently to sell goods what should you do to keep the tax office sweet? Firstly the practicalities. Set up accounts at wholesalers, preferably a credit account so you can buy from the wholesaler, sell on eBay, get paid and then pay the wholesaler 30 days later. Make sure you also open an account with eBay and get their free listings to for your adverts. Open a PayPal account or another online banking account like Nochex or Worldpay so you can take credit card payments.

Within three months you must contact the Inland Revenue and tell them you are starting a business. Consider whether you wish to become a limited company or a sole trader. Depending on the choice you make there are differences to your VAT and class of NI. If you are a limited company and employ staff there are employment laws to consider, such as minimum wages, holidays etc. There are advantages and disadvantages to each choice so you might wish to take advice. (See other articles on the Duport site more information on this).

Remember you can offset expenses against your income. For example, business expenses, car expenses, travel, entertainment, purchase of equipment etc. As in any other business, keep records of everything that is bought and sold.

To help with tax consider an accounting software package and speak to an accountant. Equally important is what not to do when starting an eBay business. Never mix your eBay business account with your personal spending. Do not assume eBay will track or report taxes – it is your responsibility. Do not use a cash method of accounting. You must record income and expenses as they occur. A sale has to be noted when the invoice is generated not when the cash is collected. When materials are ordered the expenses occur. Do not misrepresent what you are selling, otherwise you be liable for a whole range of penalties under the Sale of Goods Act. Likewise follow all rules and regulations relevant to what you are selling. If VAT applies to you (which it will if you expect your income to exceed £64,000), do not think you can avoid it internationally. You can’t. You may also need also need export permits and to register with Revenue & Customs for international trading.

If you are just selling a few personal items you don’t need to worry. But if you buy a dozen items to resell, then you are definitely a trader. If you do not register your business and fail to pay the correct amount of tax you will be liable for estimated back-tax and interest. There will also be penalties to pay, not to mention the hassle.

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