The UK Reference Numbers Explained

February 28, 2023

The UK Reference Numbers Explained

Many aspiring businesspeople, start-up creators, and small company owners face the question of what a tax reference number is and why their business needs one. If you open and register a company in the UK, you will encounter a number of bureaucratic features firsthand, and the Tax Reference Number is one of them. 

So, your company has several numbers and codes that are specified in official documents. The government organisation HM Revenue & Customs, HMRC, has several departments you need to connect your business to. These various departments automatically issue numbers to identify your company for their purposes. Since there are several of them, in this article, we will help you figure out what each of them means.

We recently wrote an article about the registration numbers assigned to British companies. Now, you’ll learn about Tax Reference, Unique Taxpayer Reference, Employer PAYE Reference, Account Tax Reference, and VAT Registration Numbers. We’ll also clarify where all of them can be found. 

Tax Reference Number

Each HMRC department deals with one of the financial obligations your company may incur, such as corporate tax, VAT, company tax returns, and expenses. 

A Tax Reference Number allows HMRC to identify you. Instead of checking the company’s name and its owner, they just use a string of characters, which is a much more manageable and secure approach.

Your Tax Reference Number consists of ten characters, usually three digits followed by seven numbers or letters. 

Additionally, your employees’ National Insurance numbers are linked to the company’s tax reference number (tax office reference number). If they need to find a company’s tax reference number when communicating with governmental agencies, they may use their NI numbers.

Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR)

A Unique Taxpayer Reference Number is not the same as your tax office reference number. They’re almost the same length, but their purpose is different. 

Your UTR, a ten-digit code, and your Business Registration Number will be given to you by HMRC once you have incorporated your company in the UK. There are two types of UTRs – those for individuals and those for companies. You can find your UTR number on the official HMRC website.

Everything related to taxes will depend on whether you provide HMRC with this number. Sole traders and partnerships have to enter this number when submitting their Self Assessments, and businesses, such as limited liability companies, have to provide their UTR when applying for a tax refund.

Employer PAYE Reference Number 

An Employer PAYE Reference Number is also called Employer Reference Number (ERN). The ERN is given to any business with employees that are set up for PAYE. If the company is very small, it’s possible to reduce SMEs’ taxable income

The ERN has three digits representing the HMRC office and several letters or numbers. Usually, it consists of 10 digits in total, but there could be exceptions. 

The Employer Reference Number is used when you complete your end-of-year PAYE returns, access tax codes, or register for email PAYE reminders. Employees need ERN for student loans and tax credits. They can find them on payslips or P60 forms that employers give them in April each year. ERN can also be found on P11D forms for taxable benefits. 

Business owners can find employer PAYE reference numbers on any HMRC letter or employee P60 and P45 forms used in previous periods. Here’s a list of what each PAYE form means.

Account Tax Reference Number

The Account Tax Reference Number is issued by HMRC with the Employer PAYE Reference number. It is a number required when you pay PAYE liabilities. You don’t give this to your employees. 

The number consists of three digits based on your tax office, two alpha characters and eight numeric characters – it has 13 symbols in total. Here’s an example: 123PA0045678X.

The account Tax Reference Number is used for security checks when making PAYE payments. An incorrect Account Office Reference Number entry could cause Real Time Information (RTI) submission failures and penalties. Check the number carefully and consult with an accountant if you have any concerns.

VAT Registration Number

The VAT Registration Number is issued to businesses by HMRC when registering for Value Added Tax. It is a unique ID that has nine digits and the prefix ‘GB.’ This number appears on VAT reports and certificates and on any HMRC correspondence related to VAT. Once you receive your VAT registration number from HMRC, it will be in the top right-hand corner of the letter. 

Your VAT Registration Number must be displayed on any VAT invoice issued to customers. If you provide goods or services to EU countries, you will need a different EU VAT registration number. HMRC has a list of ID formats that can be helpful here. 

When you receive invoices from suppliers, double-check their VAT registration numbers, which should be listed on all their invoices if they are VAT-registered. If you suspect that a company’s VAT registration number is invalid, you can run a check to verify it. Incorrect numbers may cause issues when you reclaim VAT. Since you could face extensive paperwork, it’s better to re-check to avoid this. Overall, VAT is an important thing to keep in mind when trading with different businesses in the UK or the EU. 

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