E-invoicing refers to a method in which the entire B2B invoices that are generated by the accounting software, are electronically authenticated by GSTN (Goods and Service Tax Network) for any further use such as generating E-way bills, preparing returns, and the like. In fact, E-invoice does not involve generating or creating invoices from the common portal or the tax department; rather, it includes the submission of invoices already generated from the respective accounting software at the central GST portal.
However, the GST system fails to recognize the invoice formats generated by the different accounting/ billing software. In this scenario, there arises the need for a standard invoice format (schema) which could be easily uploaded on the GST portal. This standard schema needs to be followed by the entire accounting/ billing software in order to generate the JSON of every invoice in that format so as to make the uploading process on the GST portal easy. The E-invoice schema provided by the GST system has mandatory as well as non-mandatory fields which could be used by all types of businesses.
The E-invoice mechanism is likely to be rolled out in different phases starting from January 1st 2020, upon a voluntary basis. In the beginning, it will be applicable only for those taxpayers who are above a particular turnover or an invoice value, and also for volunteers. Later on, it will be implemented for the entire taxpayers in a step-by-step manner.
What do you mean by E-invoicing?
If an invoice is generated by a software on the computer or Point of Sales (PoS) machine then does it become an e-invoice? Is e-invoice as a system where taxpayers can generate the invoices centrally? Many such questions are raised when e-invoice gets discussed.
E-invoice does not mean generation of invoices from a central portal of tax department, as any such centralization will bring unnecessary restriction on the way trade is conducted. In fact, taxpayers have different requirements and expectation, which can’t be met from one software generating e-invoices from a portal for the whole country. Invoice generated by each software may look more or less same, however, they can’t be understood by another computer system even though business users understand them fully. For example, an Invoice generated by SAP system cannot be read by a machine which is using ‘Tally’ system. Likewise there are hundreds of accounting/billing software which generate invoices but they all use their own formats to store information electronically and data on such invoices can’t be understood by the GST System if reported in their respective formats. Hence a need was felt to standardize the format in which electronic data of an Invoice will be shared with others to ensure there is interoperability of the data. The adoption of standards will in no way impact the way user would see the physical (printed) invoice or electronic (ex pdf version) invoice. All these software would adopt the new e-Invoice standard wherein they would re-align their data access and retrieval in the standard format. However, users of the software would not find any change since they would continue to see the physical or electronic (PDF/Excel) output of the invoices in the same manner as it existed before incorporation of e-Invoice standard in the software. Thus the taxpayer would continue to use his accounting system/ERP or excel based tools or any such tool for creating the electronic invoice as s/he is using today.
To help small taxpayers adopt e-invoice system, GSTN has empaneled eight accounting & billing software which provide basic accounting and billing system free of cost to small taxpayers. Those small taxpayers who do not have accounting software today, can use one of the empaneled software products, which come in both flavors, online (cloud based) as well as offline (installed on the computer system of the user).
E-Invoicing Under GST
The GST Council has approved introduction of ‘E-invoicing’ or ‘electronic invoicing’ in a phased manner for reporting of business to business (B2B) invoices to GST System, starting from 1st January 2020 on voluntary basis. Since there was no standard for e-invoice existing in the country, standard for the same has been finalized after consultation with trade/industry bodies as well as ICAI after keeping the draft in public place. Having a standard is a must to ensure complete inter-operability of e-invoices across the entire GST eco-system so that e-invoices generated by one software can be read by any other software, thereby eliminating the need of fresh data entry – which is a norm and standard expectation today. The machine readability and uniform interpretation is the key objective. This is also important for reporting the details to GST System as part of Return. Apart from the GST System, adoption of a standard will also ensure that an e-invoice shared by a seller with his buyer or bank or agent or any other player in the whole business eco-system can be read by machines and obviate and hence eliminate data entry errors.
The GST Council approved the standard of e-invoice in its 37th meeting held on 20th Sept 2019 and the same along with schema has been published on GST portal. Standards are generally abstruse and thus an explanation document is required to present the same in common man’s language. Also, there are lot of myth or misconception about e-Invoice. The present document is an attempt to explain the concept of e-invoice, how it operates and basics of standards. It also contains FAQs which answer the questions raised by people who responded to the draft e-invoice standard used for public consultation. It is expected that the document will also be useful for the taxpayers, tax consultants and the software companies to adopt the designed standard.