I finally got my refund
But had to jump through several more hoops before they gave it to me.
To continue the saga where I left off. I applied to be registered for VAT as directed by the UK authorities, then got an email saying that my application had been rejected. I rang and made the point that it was them that had asked me to register in the first place and enquired if they weren’t accepting my application would they be refunding the VAT as per my original request. I was told that they would reopen the application and heard nothing more.
A couple of months’ later, I got back in touch with them and said that I was writing off the debts for the work I had done in the UK and as assumed that I wasn’t yet registered, could I cancel the application. I got an email back saying that I was already registered – I received the letter telling me my VAT number a couple of months’ later. I think they must literally use snail mail for foreign letters. I went online and did my first return, although first I had to wait for the code I requested to allow me to do an online return to arrive in the post.
As I didn’t know that I was registered, I’d been continuing to reverse charge my UK clients instead of charge VAT, and I had not been paid for any VAT invoices when I did the return. Hence I just had a claim for £300, the amount I was owed after nearly 2 years of visiting the UK on business. This elicited a speedy phone call from a VAT inspector who wanted to know why I was not declaring any incoming VAT and demanded to see all of the receipts for the claim. I obliged and he approved the payment. Unfortunately I was still waiting for a code to allow me to alter my VAT account online and add a bank account to it, so they sent me a cheque. This I had to pay into my personal bank account in the UK as Transferwise doesn’t accept cheques, and I wasn’t about to lose half of the amount in French bank charges for cashing a foreign cheque.
Having finally acheived this, I decided enough was enough and deregistered for VAT in both France and the UK from 1st January 2020, although I didn’t receive notification about the UK one for a few weeks. It will cost me a bit more in cash but the lack of time spent on ridiculous admin is worth it. I filed my final UK VAT return in mid-February and will do the last French one by 5th May.