HMRC tries it on with football referees, but scores own goal

There are few people in this world who are more autonomous than football referees. Controlling the beautiful game, sometimes to the frustration of one team or another, the ref is the authority and calls the shots until the final whistle blows. Even the video ref is a referee with comprehensive power to exercise judgment.

Yes referees abide by rules and are trained for that purpose, but who can say that they work under the direction supervision or control of any person let alone the party that engages them for a match? The answer is HMRC can, or at least attempted to in the recent case of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) v HMRC.

In this case the refs were engaged to perform ref duties at various games. HMRC said that all the ingredients of employment existed and therefore the engaging company, PGMOL, an entity set up by the FA, the Premier League and the English Football League, as employer should pay the refs net of tax and account to HMRC for PAYE and all NICs.

This attempt to score a long distance goal was blocked by the Tax Tribunal. There was no mutuality of obligation, nor direction supervision and control and so there could not be employment. However this case was classified by the Tribunal as complex and serves as a reminder that assessing an individual as an employee is not an easy task, even for HMRC.

One wonders whether HMRC would really like to see everyone as employed individuals and this possibility should be in people’s minds whenever an opportunity arises for HMRC to extend its reach. For now this outcome was firmly an own goal, graphically demonstrating HMRC’s own lack of understanding of rules which it otherwise denies are confusing or difficult. This naturally undermines confidence in the service, which HMRC would perhaps do well to correct.

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