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Premier League The taxman cometh for image rights holders

The raids by the the British taxman on Premier League sides, West Ham and Newcastle, in late April are believed to have been inspired by non-payment of taxes on image rights.

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"The treasury has indicated the raids on West Ham and Newcastle won't be isolated," says Peter Fairchild, Tax Partner and Head of Sport at accountancy, investment management and tax group, Smith & Williamson play

"The treasury has indicated the raids on West Ham and Newcastle won't be isolated," says Peter Fairchild, Tax Partner and Head of Sport at accountancy, investment management and tax group, Smith & Williamson

(AFP/File)

The raids by the the British taxman on Premier League sides, West Ham and Newcastle, in late April are believed to have been inspired by non-payment of taxes on image rights.

Indeed HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) showing an increased interest in football clubs could be a sign of things to come.

Peter Fairchild, Tax Partner and Head of Sport at accountancy, investment management and tax group, Smith & Williamson, says it would be to the benefit of all clubs to ensure their books were in order.

"Most clubs are very well run commercial businesses these days but it would be prudent for clubs to be getting their affairs in order and their ducks lined up," Fairchild told AFP in his firm's offices in the City of London.

"The treasury has indicated the raids on West Ham and Newcastle won't be isolated," added Fairchild, who presently has around a dozen cases involving clubs and players regarding image rights.

Fairchild, says not everyone is trying to pull a fast one on the revenue authorities.

"A lot of the time, when cases are passed to me for comment, you think, at first glance, well those involved may have pushed the boundaries too far here and I can see why the tax man would be interested," said Fairchild.

"However, a lot of the cases do stack up and there is a lot of evidence to support the commercial reasons why the clubs, players and agents have been acting in that way. It is sometimes just not very well demonstrated or documented."

Fairchild, who is a former semi-professional footballer, says aside from the tax benefits -- money diverted legally through corporate structures sees tax reduced from 45% to 19% -- those players who agree to perform duties outside their normal ones, like speaking at sponsors AGM's or golf days, see other benefits to getting on the image rights bandwagon.

"Players realise they will spend a lot of time retired and the income from their image rights could be something good to fall back on as a cash pot," said Fairchild.

'Need lots and lots of evidence'

Fairchild, who drew up the different tax bands recommendations for image rights differentiating between superstar players and very good ones which were accepted by the tax authorities, says the burden of proof on the player is very high.

"Usually you receive an opening letter with an appendix pinned to it with questions," said Fairchild.

"The questions typically include; what arrangements has the player made with an image rights company, what legal documents exist, are the appropriate documents at Companies House, who are the directors and shareholders and what arrangements do they have with the club and other third parties.

"HMRC want to determine what the players image has been used for and what the player has done, over and above what is normally expected in the playing contract.

"They (the tax authorities) don't like to see undated and unsigned agreements and sometimes you have to find documents such as invoices and accounts as well as VAT returns.

"The club and player need lots and lots of evidence that this is over and above the usual employment contract.

"One would hope this is backed up with a diary of what the player has done."

Fairchild, who acts for around 50 Premier League and Championship players, warns that image rights structures must be commercially viable.

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, briefly highlighted the area at his last Budget. A press release followed which said image rights weren't being taxed appropriately and further news and guidance would be forthcoming shortly," said Fairchild.

"The treasury indicated that, over the next two to three years, tax authorities will look to pay visits to the Scottish Premiership, Premier League and Championship clubs to see they are all in order."

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