On the ball: HMRC tackles football once again


Andy Wood

Andy is a practical, creative tax adviser who assists a variety of clients in achieving their personal and commercial objectives in the most tax efficient manner.

There are interesting parallels – albeit not immediately obvious – between the football industry and the work of the HMRC.

Both are results-oriented. Both like to talk a good game. In addition, individuals in both disciplines occasionally go over the top, generating controversy and lurid headlines.

So, when the two mix, there can be no shortage of media attention.

Regular readers of this ‘blog will recall how, at the start of last month, I wrote about the broader impact of HMRC’s pursuit of taxes which it believes it is owed due to clubs’ use of Employee Benefit Trusts.

That, of course, was days before administrators appointed after the demise of Glasgow Rangers in 2012 took HMRC to the Supreme Court to contest a ruling that the club’s provision of millions of pounds worth of loans to staff through EBTs warranted substantial income tax payments.

That matter – or ‘the big tax case’, as it has been referred to – has been rumbling for several years but can be set against the context of HMRC’s increasingly critical scrutiny of our national game.

Back in December, HMRC’s Chief Executive, Jon Thompson, told a committee of MPs that he wanted a review of how footballers were able to reduce their tax bills.

His Head of Enforcement, Jennie Grainger, also pointed out that 43 players, eight agents and 12 clubs were at that point in time in the spotlight, adding that one unit at the Revenue had generated £158 million in payments from soccer since 2014 alone.

Their remarks were the equivalent of a pre-match press conference, setting the tone for the taxman’s prospective exchanges with the sport’s stars.

Like many a tough-tackling midfielder eager to carry out their manager’s instructions, HMRC’s investigators have now really started putting the boot in.

This week, HMRC teams have made a number of arrests and raided both West Ham United of the Premier League and Newcastle United which only won a return to English football’s top tier on Monday night.

As I have been telling a number of media outlets, including The Independent, the actions are in keeping with HMRC’s game plan to crack down on even those well-known figures and firms who it suspects of impropriety.

A statement on the football raids, in which computers and telephones were also seized, made reference to “tax fraud” – a bold statement which certainly didn’t pull any punches.

HMRC recognises the deterrent effect which energetic inquiries into household names can have on people involved in less glamorous professions, coercing them into obeying correct procedures for fear of a similar penalty.

One of the most interesting facets of this and other very recent cases is the co-operation between British and foreign tax authorities. In the latest football investigation, for example, ten searches were conducted in France.

The message is that no-one, regardless of their location, is beyond their reach.

However, officers at the Revenue, just like their footballing counterparts, know that game management is key in terms of delivering the desired objectives.

Their clear focus must be sustained beyond the impact of some newsworthy early skirmishes and lead to demonstrable – and fair – outcomes.

The taxman’s attack and football’s defence against charges of excess and illegality may yet become as interesting as what happens on the pitch itself.


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