April 2019 : Making Tax Digital : VAT : What invoicing software are co-ops using?

From April 2019 UK VAT registered organisations will have to submit VAT returns electronically using an API (for details see the Making Tax Digital guides (PDF’s) and the VAT (MTD) API v1.0 (Beta)).

We anticipate that Webarchitects will need to register for VAT in 2019, currently we are using InvoicePlane and it has served us well for the last few years, it is Free software you can self-host and it produces nice looking invoices and supports lots of payment gateways and has a simple to use admin interface.

However neither InvoicePlane or the other two popular Free software invoicing systems, Invoice Ninga or OpenSourceBilling will have support for the MTD VAT API.

So we believe we have roughly three options:

  1. Develop some code that can pull data from the InvoicePlane database and submit it to the MTD VAT API.
  2. Write a plugin and user interface for the Kill Bill server.
  3. Switch to a non-free software system.

I believe, but might be mistaken, that the CoTech VAT registered co-ops all use non-free invoicing software (option 3. above). This isn’t our first choice but in order to make a decision between these three options we could do with some more information about option 3. (for more background detail see the thread on the Webarchitects members forum).

Could the VAT registered co-ops say what commercial invoicing software they are using and how much it costs and what they think of it?

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We use Xero. It broadly works fine.

Sometimes we wonder if we’d have rather gone with FreeAgent because in the past it made allocating expenses to projects easier. A contractor who worked with us used FreeAgent and really liked it.

Xero has just updated its expenses module, which involves extra payment, and I’m no longer in touch with the differences between the two systems. If FreeAgent is cheaper and this is a factor for you, I’d suggest trying that. Otherwise Xero is the dominant player I think.

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We also use FreeAgent - it has good support for invoicing and VAT returns. We’ve been happy with it over the years.

It would be nice to use something open-source but it’s tough to justify the time to make the switch, and our accountant is also very familiar with FreeAgent which makes certain things easier.

@chris - happy to give you a bit of a demo of FreeAgent when I see you at the gathering if that helps?

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Cheers for the offer @chrislowis, we are currently evaluating ERPNext, it looks like it might be able to more-or-less do everything we need…

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We use Kashflow for historic reasons - our accountant had a deal with them. It works well for what we need it to do, although sadly there is no integration with Unity Trust Bank which would help with reccing. As chance would have it, I’m just having a look at Xero in case it does things better than KF - currently, I have nothing to compare it to and have gotten very used to it so can’t really say whether it is actually any good!

Useful table here:

The one we’re looking at, ERPNext, isn’t on this list but it’s on this page:

(ERP = Enterprise Resource Planning systems)
Eg: https://blog.capterra.com/what-is-erp-software/

if this helps?

We use Xero after switching from FreeAgent.

FA was good (simpler) but we started to need more of the advanced functions from Xero to help with budgeting, forecasting and monitoring of finances.

The new systems we have are reasonably time consuming, but they give us a great overview of where we are financially so we get very advanced warning if, for example, we’re not selling or delivering enough work.

It would definitely be a good session at the meetup - I’d suggest we look at management accounts as well as actual accounting systems.


A Lords committee has called for a delay in the roll out and mandatory digital VAT submissions from 1st April 2019:

Would it be worth having a session on invoicing sytems at the CoTech hack next week? I could demonstrate where we have got to with ERPNext (it is looking very promising) and perhaps other people could demonstrate Xero and FreeAgent?

+1 for this - we use a fairly clunky set of spreadsheet activity to make Xero do forecasting so it would be great to hear what you and others have come up with. We started looking at Float, which is explicitly for forecasting, and haven’t put enough time into it to fully understand it. My sense is that Float needs less manual hitting with hammers than our current approach, while costing a bit more obviously. Float doesn’t understand a mix of VAT and non VAT work (i.e. selling abroad and selling in the UK) so both approaches need some manual adjustments as far as we can see.

hey @toml

We use Float for forecasting, moving away from a spreadsheet (remember our chat at the first Worker Coop Weekend?). I then use this do some the financial forecasting.

It looks like we are moving off Kashflow to Xero, with a big benefit being it has solid integration with Harvest, our time tracker.

I may well look at moving to Forecast in the new year, which is Harvest’s sister app so that all three tie in nicely.


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Heh, yes indeed I do remember the pinnacle of the worker coops weekend being poring over spreadsheets on the last day :smiley:

OK would be great to hear how you make Float deal with multi-VAT stuff. Seemed like we’d have to track all VAT statuses of all invoices every month and manually edit this. That’s probably less work than we do now, if you’re not at one with the finance spreadsheets!!

We use Forecast for planning, not Harvest yet.


I work in an organisation using GnuCash. As the name suggests it’s free and open source software for accounts. I wouldn’t recommend it.

My colleague is having to produce separate spreadsheets from it because the reports it produces are limited and sometimes not available.

My impression is it seems to be a software version of traditional double-entry book-keeping, originally with US home or small company accounts as a starting point. It’s based on “ledgers” in other words … so it doesn’t produce (say) fancy graphs and other helpful visual reports. Having said all that, it does have (I think) a large and active user base, and is rock-solid in tech terms.