Friday, 4 August 2017

Final score (AET): Tax Avoidance Scheme 0 – 1 HMRC

How a complex Employee Benefit Trust resulted in a catastrophic own goal…

With the new football season warming up, we’ve decided to get you in the mood with a match report of a recent (albeit long-running) encounter between HMRC and a well-known football club.

So, it’s over to our roving reporter in the north, Mike Hardigan-Fitzbaddely…

“Well, this one’s been a cracker, full of twists and turns.

Although the season’s just now starting for some, this marathon of a contest has only just finished for others. And yes, while one side can claim to literally be over the moon, the other is, without doubt, feeling as sick as a parrot. With psittacosis.

I’m talking about the former incarnation of Rangers Football Club (who subsequently went into liquidation) and the case brought against them by HMRC for tax avoidance.

From the off, Rangers were keen to keep things tight around the fringes and keep something extra in their locker – about £47m – rallying at every opportunity to keep HMRC at bay. Their strategy worked well and for much of the tussle, they remained untouchable. Their opponents had seen this formation and tactics before though, and continued to probe relentlessly until the cracks in Rangers’ rearguard action started to show.

On a different day, and if Rangers’ gameplan had been on target, it might have worked. But, as the battle of wills wore on, all their attempts to think outside the box caused them to fall into their own offside trap. 

And, despite a valiant, backs-to-the-wall defensive display, they ultimately found themselves not in acres of space, but a quagmire of red-card trouble. Caught in their own net, they paid the ultimate penalty.

What might have first appeared as a game of two halves and ‘a bit of handbags’ has now been decisively concluded. To lose the dressing room is one thing; to lose the entire football club is something that will cause them nightmares for years to come.

This is Mike Hardigan-Fitzbaddely, North of Watford. In the rain.” 

For those of us not versed in empty footballing parlance, following an appeal, The Supreme Court finally ruled in favour of HMRC who claimed that Rangers’ complex Employee Benefit Trusts and sub-trusts structure amounted to avoidance of liability to pay Income Tax and Class 1 National Insurance contributions. This involved the payments of over £47m to players, managers, and directors of the football club between 2001 and 2010.

We’ve all heard of schoolboy defending, although, in this case, it seems nowhere near as damaging as schoolboy accounting. Sometimes, claiming to give 110% clearly doesn’t work.

And remember, it’s only a cliché if it doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi.

Until next month...