At James Scott, we often field questions from clients about the tax implications of selling on platforms like eBay. In fact, we originally wrote this blog in 2021 but due to recent changes in the tax rules, we felt like an update was required.

Whether you’re decluttering your home or running a side business, it’s essential to understand when your activities could result in a tax obligation. This post is designed to clarify these situations, ensuring you can trade on eBay confidently and compliantly.


Understanding tax obligations for eBay sales

If you sell online or engage in eBay sales, you can enter the realm of taxable income. However, as a private seller, not all sales need to be declared to HMRC, which leads to some confusion. Essentially, the tax responsibility depends on whether your selling activity is seen as a hobby or a business. If you occasionally sell personal items, you’re typically not expected to report these sales.

However, if your activities are frequent, systematic, and intended to make a profit, they are likely taxable.

Recent changes to the regulation of digital platforms like Vinted and eBay ruffled some feathers. These companies will be required to report sellers’ earnings to HMRC if they exceed a specified threshold. This change prompts an important question: Will you need to pay tax on these earnings? Here’s what you should know about this shift if you sell on eBay.


What is the online selling law change?

Essentially, the legal framework governing online sales remains unchanged; what has evolved is the enforcement intensity. These platforms are now mandated to share information with HMRC about their users’ earnings. Although it’s informally referred to as the “side hustle tax,” it’s important to clarify that this is not a new form of taxation. Instead, it simply applies standard income tax rules, which you would pay on any other form of employment or business income.

If you’re a private seller and your selling activities on these platforms did not previously require you to pay tax—perhaps because you were selling occasionally or staying within personal allowance limits—the same will hold true now. The only difference is that there’s a stronger mechanism in place to ensure that those who should be paying tax on their earnings are indeed doing so.

This modification is part of a set of new regulations that took effect at the beginning of 2024, which the UK has adopted in line with guidelines from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

While tax authorities have always had the authority to request sales data from UK-based companies to check for tax compliance, this capability now extends to digital platforms headquartered outside the UK. This means that platforms, regardless of their location, are required to comply with these regulations by January 2025, though they may begin to share information with HMRC sooner.

Understanding these changes and how they affect your online selling activities is crucial for ensuring compliance and avoiding unexpected tax liabilities as a private seller. If you’re unsure about your specific situation, it’s wise to seek advice from a professional accountant.

So, let’s break it down:

Casual selling: If you sporadically sell personal items—perhaps an old book or a dress that no longer fits—these sales generally do not need to be reported. HMRC isn’t interested in these occasional, non-commercial disposals of your personal possessions and items.

Business selling: Conversely, if you regularly purchase items to resell at a profit or if your selling is frequent and organised, this constitutes a business activity. In such cases, you must declare your sales to HMRC. This distinction helps protect genuine hobbyists from unnecessary tax burdens while ensuring those effectively running an online business pay their fair share.


Selling personal items versus running a business

The line between selling personal items and running a business can sometimes blur, but HMRC provides clear criteria, known as ‘badges of trade’, to help determine your status. These include the frequency of transactions, the length of ownership of the items sold, and the reason for the sale. Selling something you’ve just bought, or selling items regularly, likely categorises your eBay activities as a business.


Understanding and calculating taxes on eBay earnings

For those identified as running a business, all income over £1,000 annually from such sales must be reported to HMRC. This limit is part of the Trading Allowance which allows you to earn up to £1,000 per year tax-free from miscellaneous income each tax year. Beyond this threshold, you’ll need to declare and potentially pay tax on your earnings.


Calculating your taxable income

When preparing to report your eBay sales, calculate your gross income—the total sales revenue before any expenses are deducted. It’s crucial to keep meticulous records of all transactions, including the cost of items sold, eBay fees, and shipping costs. These can often be deducted as business expenses to only pay tax on your profits, not the full value-added tax on the total sales amount.


Registering for self-assessment tax return

If your eBay sales or other online business activities reach a level where you’re required to pay tax, registering for self-assessment with HMRC is essential. This registration is a critical step for anyone who needs to declare income not automatically taxed at source, like that from self-employment or from selling goods online.


Registering for self-assessment

Registering for a self-assessment tax return is straightforward and can be completed entirely online through the HMRC website. It’s designed to bring convenience to users and allow them to manage their tax affairs efficiently and securely.


Step-by-step guide to registering

Gather necessary information: Before you begin, make sure you have all the required information at hand. This includes your National Insurance number, personal details, and details about your business.

Create a Government Gateway account: If you haven’t already, you’ll need to create a Government Gateway account. This account will be your portal to access many of the UK government’s online services, including HMRC’s digital services.

Register for self-assessment: Once your Gateway account is set up, you can register for self-assessment. During registration, you’ll be asked to provide details about your business activities to determine your tax obligations.

Receive your UTR number: After registering, you will receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number. This number is crucial as you’ll need it to file your returns for the tax year.

Sign up for digital tax services: Opting into HMRC’s digital services can make managing your tax affairs simpler. This includes using software that links directly to HMRC, making it easier to keep records and submit returns.


Using the Trading Allowance to your advantage

The Trading Allowance is a beneficial tool for small sellers. If your total income from eBay and any other side hustles is less than £1,000, you benefit automatically from this allowance and don’t need to take any further action unless your total income exceeds this amount.


VAT implications for eBay sellers


When to register for VAT

If your total sales exceed £85,000 in a 12-month period, you must register for VAT. This applies whether you’re selling just on eBay or across multiple platforms.


eBay and VAT obligations

Once registered for VAT, all sales become subject to VAT. This means you’ll need to charge VAT on the items you already sell on ebay and can reclaim VAT on your business-related purchases. This can significantly affect the pricing of your items and your profit margins, so it’s crucial to account for VAT in your financial planning.


The changing tax landscape for online marketplaces

The UK’s tax legislation is adapting to better cover digital platforms and online sales, reflecting the growing significance of the digital economy. Changes like the expansion of Making Tax Digital are part of this trend, ensuring that online sellers meet their tax obligations through more transparent and streamlined processes.


Financial planning and strategy for eBay businesses

Effective financial management is crucial for anyone running a business, including eBay sellers. It’s advisable to set aside a percentage of each sale to cover potential tax bills. Proactive financial planning prevents cash flow problems and ensures you can meet your tax obligations on time.


Frequently Asked Questions


What’s the threshold for reporting sales on eBay to HMRC?

Under the Trading Allowance, the threshold is £1,000. Beyond this, you, as a private seller, must report your income.


How do I navigate tax reporting when receiving an HMRC letter regarding eBay sales?

Ensure you have all records and documentation of your sales and expenses. It might also be beneficial to consult with a tax advisor to respond appropriately.


Can HMRC track my eBay sales activity, and what should I do about it?

Yes, HMRC can track sales activity, especially through digital platforms. Always ensure that your sales records are accurate and complete.


Are there specific HMRC guidelines for private sellers to follow when selling on eBay?

HMRC’s guidelines for private eBay selling focus on the frequency and nature of sales. Regular selling likely requires registration and reporting.


What steps should I take to ensure compliance with HMRC rules while selling on eBay?

Maintain good records, stay informed about tax changes, and consider professional advice to ensure compliance with tax regulations.

For more detailed advice or if you have specific concerns about your eBay selling activities, don’t hesitate to contact us at James Scott. Our team is dedicated to assisting you in managing your business finances effectively and ensuring you meet all your tax obligations. Here’s how we can help:

Personalised consultation: At James Scott, we understand that every eBay seller’s situation is unique. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand your existing online business, our experts provide tailored advice that aligns with your specific circumstances. We can help you understand the nuances of tax regulations that apply specifically to online sales and how they affect your business model.

Comprehensive financial review: We offer a comprehensive review of your financial activities, ensuring that every aspect of your eBay business is tax-compliant. This includes examining income streams, expense deductions, and potential tax liabilities. Our goal is to identify areas where you can save money, improve financial efficiency, or potentially avoid common pitfalls that online sellers may encounter.

Tax planning and strategy: If you owe tax, effective tax planning is crucial for maximising profitability while remaining compliant with HMRC regulations. We can assist in developing strategies that minimise your income tax liabilities, such as taking full advantage of the Trading Allowance, structuring your business to benefit from lower tax rates, or advising on VAT registration and management if your turnover is near or exceeds the threshold. We also offer sales tax and Capital Gains Tax advice.

Ongoing support and compliance: The rules and regulations governing online sales, including eBay transactions, can change frequently. Our team keeps up-to-date with these changes to ensure that your business remains compliant. We provide ongoing support, including preparing and filing your self-assessment tax returns, advising on record-keeping practices, and ensuring all deadlines are met.

Handling HMRC inquiries: Should you face an inquiry or audit from HMRC, having James Scott by your side can be invaluable. We can represent your interests, handle communications with HMRC, and provide the necessary documentation and explanations regarding your eBay tax sales and financial records.

Training and resources: We believe in empowering our clients through education. To this end, we offer training sessions and resources that help you understand how to manage your eBay business finances better. This includes using software tools effectively, understanding financial statements, and keeping abreast of new tax laws that may impact your business.


Contact us today

If you want to ensure that your eBay selling activities are as profitable and compliant as possible, or if you have any specific queries about how tax laws apply to your online sales, contact us today. At James Scott, we are committed to providing you with the clarity and confidence needed to focus on growing your business while we take care of the financial details.

Contact us today for help if you have got selling related questions.