IoS investigation: Football's tax shame
Britain's Premier League football clubs are awash with money. They pay star players £250,000 a week, and turn over £2.2bn a year. Yet records show they paid only £3m in corporation tax last year
Paul Gallagher is a reporter for the Independent and Independent on Sunday having joined the group in 2012. He has previously worked for the European Voice, Daily Mirror and the Observer and been based in Brussels, Belfast, Tokyo and London.
Sunday 02 December 2012
Premier League clubs made more than £150m profit yet paid less than £3m in corporation tax, according to analysis of their most recent accounts. This is an effective tax rate of 2 per cent. Equally startling is that a profit of £150m made by eight clubs is all that the Premier League has to show for a turnover of about £2.2bn a year.
Five clubs, including Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, paid no tax at all, despite a combined surplus of more than £70m. Blackpool, relegated from the Premier League last year, paid just over £100,000 on profits of £21m – a rate of 0.5 per cent. The club was able to pay minimal tax on its substantial profits because of the effects of a £6.7m loss the year before. The club also donated just over £5,000 to charities.
Of the other profitable elite clubs, Arsenal had the biggest potential tax bill – £7m on group profits of £36.6m – but paid less than half a million pounds while deferring more than £6m. West Bromwich Albion topped the company tax table, paying £1.8m on £18.9m profits.
The club accounts of those that made a profit cover the financial year 2010-11, with the exception of Manchester United and Arsenal, which have both recently published their 2011-12 accounts. None of the clubs has acted illegally and all of them pay big sums in PAYE and other taxes.
Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Whatever the accounts of these clubs say, everyone knows that the Premier League is awash with money. This and many other examples that have emerged over recent months demonstrate that the Government should conduct a serious review of our corporate tax regime."
And the Labour MP and former sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe said: "Even though this isn't illegal, it's not right. I will be raising this issue with the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee this week, as a matter of urgency."
Richard Murphy, principal researcher at the Tax Justice Network, said: "Football enjoys an incredibly generous tax regime. First, because the UK asks very few questions about the interest that can be offset by companies against their profits. HM Revenue & Customs has been giving massive tax subsidies to foreigners to buy UK football clubs. Second, the tax treatment of transfer fees means that tax relief is given on these when paid.
"Since most Premier clubs pay out more than they get in transfer fees, the result is that they get up-front tax relief on payments that may not be reflected in their accounts for some time to come, meaning that many have considerable tax losses available to them not reflected in their reported financial performance, and pay little or no tax as a result. This needs review."
News of the clubs' corporation tax payments echoes the exceptionally low rates paid by multinational corporations including Starbucks, Google and Amazon. And yesterday it emerged that Britain and Germany may have missed out on a combined £623m in sales tax since the online marketplace eBay picked a tiny Luxembourg office as its base for EU sales, a shift that lawmakers say should now be investigated.
Earlier this year, the Premier League was forced to pay millions of pounds in tax after it reached agreement with HMRC over player image rights dispute. The backdated tax covered a six-year period and included 15 Premier League clubs.
In the case of the eight profitable Premier League clubs, a number of legal methods are used to reduce their corporation tax payments, the most common one being offsetting operating profits against previous years' losses. The reduction in corporation tax from 28 per cent in 2010 to 24 per cent this year has further reduced the clubs' bills. The rate is set to drop again next year to 23 per cent.
Football clubs also utilise transfer fees for maximum benefit. Accountancy rules require that the transfer fee paid for a footballer is written off over the period of the contract. For example, if a football club bought a player next year for a transfer fee of £10m, on a five-year contract, £2m would be recognised in the first year, 2013, and the remaining £8m would be written off over the remainder of the contract. Depending on the tax treatment of the fee, this may have an impact on the amount of deferred tax recognised.
A Premier League spokesman said last night: "We can't comment on individual club tax affairs and any questions about the taxes they pay should be put directly to them." He added that last season the league's 20 clubs contributed in excess of £1bn to the Treasury via PAYE on salaries, VAT, corporation and other taxes. Here are the details for the other profitable clubs:
A£28m tax credit enabled Manchester United to announce profits of £23.3m in September – 80 per cent up on 2011. But the club's profitability has greatly reduced since it was bought for £800m by Americans Joel and Avram Glazer in 2005, largely using debt. Because of a loss of £4.7m "on ordinary activities before tax" the club's corporation tax bill for 2012 is zero. The club paid £3.3m in corporation tax earlier this year on £12m profits from 2011. A club spokesman said: "As with all businesses, when we make a profit we pay corporation tax. It's as simple as that." The club is committed to a wide-ranging corporate social responsibility programme through the Manchester United Foundation, which includes working with Unicef.
Wolves, relegated last season, transferred their £9.2m 2011 profit on a £64.4m turnover to its reserves adding to the £16.3m profit made in 2010. The club carried forward a £16.6m tax loss from 2010 and, subject to the agreement of tax authorities, has carried forward a £7.3m tax loss. Its accounts state: "The company has no liability for taxation." No dividend was paid by the club in either 2010 or 2011 and Wolves also donated just over £5,000 to charities last year.
A loss of almost £18m in 2010 meant that despite going £4.8m into the black, Fulham's tax losses carried forward amounted to more than £43m, leaving it exempt from corporation tax. The club donated £85,000 to its community sport charity, the Fulham Football Club Foundation.
Spurs donated £500,000 to the club's charitable foundation and did not have to pay any tax on its relatively small profit. A £267,000 tax credit meant the club enjoyed a retained profit of £0.67m, but bringing forward losses and some roll-over relief from reinvestment in capital assets ensured a blank bill.
Newcastle's £32.6m profits were boosted by the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool for about £35m, but the club has paid zero corporation tax for two years, having also carried forward tax losses.
Arsenal's £7m tax bill is largely made up of £480,000 of current corporation tax and £6.19m of "deferred taxation". Experts say "deferred tax" is not real tax at all and is an accounting technique designed to smooth the tax charges that appear in company accounts. Arsenal Holdings Plc, the holding company of the Arsenal group of companies that includes the club and the property development activity associated with its Emirates Stadium project, has deferred more than £105m in tax over the past three years.
Arsenal Holdings Plc deferred £38.8m overall for 2012, a figure largely made up of "accelerated capital allowances, capitalised interest and rollover relief on player registrations". The club paid £2.1m in tax on a £14.78m profit last year and received a £5.5m tax credit on profits of £55m in 2010. It is engaged in numerous charity projects and teamed up with its first "global charity partner" Save the Children raising, nearly £500,000 to support local and international projects.
A club spokesman said: "The £5.5m tax credit was essentially the result of agreeing with HMRC amounts of corporation tax payable across a number of previously open years/issues, where the final amount agreed as payable was less than the provision which had been set up in the accounts in respect of each of the years/issues in question. All payments where corporation tax is due have been paid up to date."
The other avoiders
* Starbucks has paid only £8.6m in corporation tax since it began operating in the UK in 1998. In that time, the company has opened almost 800 coffee shops in Britain and made sales of more than £3bn.
* Google paid only £6m in corporation tax in 2011, despite revenues of £2.5bn in the UK. The amount it gave in shares to its workers, at £51.4m, was almost 10 times what it paid in corporation tax.
* Amazon UK paid just £2.3m in corporation tax between 2009 and 2011 – during which time it made more than £7bn in sales.
* EBay is under pressure to pay more in tax after PAC chair Margaret Hodge called yesterday for an investigation by HMRC into allegations that eBay avoided huge VAT bills by choosing to base itself in Luxembourg. It is estimated that HMRC could be able to recoup £312m in VAT.
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