Making Tax Digital for VAT – a simple guide to digital links.

29th January 2020

1 April 2020 marks the first anniversary of Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT, which has required VAT registered businesses with a turnover of more than £85,000 to file their VAT returns using a digital application. 

Technically, it’s been a requirement to have ‘digital links’ since the launch of MTD, however during the first year, HMRC implemented a ‘soft landing’ and there was no legal obligation to have a fully digitised VAT accounting system. As such, businesses could copy and paste data from one system to another and HMRC has accepted this.

Making Tax Digital


However, the soft landing period is soon to be over. This means no more typing-up figures, manual corrections or copy and pasting from spreadsheets. Digital links must be in place across all parts of the compatible software, yet, many businesses are still relying on this process.

What is a digital link?

A digital link is pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s a link between two digital places that allows data to be transferred between them, theoretically without human intervention. This could be a transfer or exchange of data within a business (for example, between two systems) or a transfer of data to your accountant so that they can prepare a VAT Return or make a calculation.

Examples of digital links are:

  • Linked cells in spreadsheets, for example, if you have a formula in one sheet that mirrors the source’s value in another cell, then the cells are linked.
  • XML, CSV import and export, and the download and upload of files
  • Automated data transfer
  • API transfer - API stands for Application Programming Interface which is a software intermediary that allows two applications to ‘talk’ to each other. 

When do I need to have digital links in place?

This depends on when your first MTD VAT return was due. If you were required to comply with MTD from your first VAT period starting on or after 1 April 2019, you will have until your first VAT return period starting on or after 1 April 2020 to put digital links in place.

However, if you were eligible for a deferred start date and submitted your first MTD VAT return on or after 1 October 2019, you will have until your first VAT return period starting on or after 1 October 2020 to have a fully digitalised system.

Is it possible to apply for an extension?

HMRC accept that, for a small number of businesses, further time may be needed but you must fit one of the following, specific criteria:

  • You have a complex IT system that may require a longer period to put digital links in place across your software.
  • You have acquired another business and to digitally link everything is impossible before the deadline.

My business fits the criteria for an extension, how do I apply?

To be considered for an extension, you will need to:

  • Make a formal application to HMRC as soon as possible for an extension before your deadline
  • Explain why it is unachievable for you to have digital links in place by deadline
  • Submit details of the systems that are unable to be digitally linked
  • Provide an explanation and timetable for when and how you will become MTD compliant
  • Outline the controls you will put in place to ensure any manually transferred data is moved accurately and without error.

Whilst the soft launch of MTD has allowed businesses to adjust to the changes without the fear of receiving a penalty, fines will soon become a reality. The easiest way to avoid falling foul to these charges is to use a fully compatible digital software, or API enabled software which can read data from an excel spreadsheet. If you think this is something that your business may be affected by, then please speak to Jessica Mason at