While there is currently a focus on the income tax considerations of bad and doubtful debts (given that National Treasury has proposed changes to section 11(j) of the Income Tax Act to allow for an allowance of 25% of impairments in respect of doubtful debts), the Value Added Tax (VAT) aspect of bad debts is often overlooked.
Section 22 of the Value Added Tax Act determines that a VAT vendor who accounts for VAT on the invoice basis may deduct input tax in respect of debts which have become irrecoverable and written off. To be able to claim the input tax deduction, three requirements should be met:
1. There must have been a taxable supply for a consideration in money;
2. The vendor must have already properly accounted for the output VAT on that supply; and
3. The vendor must have written off the amount of the consideration that has become irrecoverable.
The first two requirements should be relatively easy to meet since they generally occur in the ordinary course of business. The final requirement may potentially be more difficult to substantiate.
The VAT Act does not provide any further guidance on what constitutes “irrecoverable” or “written off”. A similar hurdle is present in the Income Tax Act, that does not elaborate on what the meaning is of debt that has become “doubtful” and debt that has “become bad”. Arguably, the requirements in the VAT Act stating that the debt must be “written off”, goes a step further than debt that is merely “doubtful” or that has “become bad”. It is also not certain to what extent the South African Revenue Service could draw comparisons between how a taxpayer treated the same debt for income tax and VAT purposes. Taxpayers should, therefore, exercise caution when they attempt to claim the allowable input tax and ensure that the facts support a case for a debt that has been written off. The input tax that can be claimed is equal to the tax fraction (15/115) applied to the amount actually written off.
Importantly though, if a vendor has success in recovering a portion of the debt previously written off, this must again be accounted for as output tax. Taxpayers that form part of a group of companies should also note that if the debt has been written off between wholly-owned members, the additional input tax is not allowed.
 58 of 1962 (the Income Tax Act)
 89 of 1991 (the VAT Act)
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)