Calls for new legal definition after Premier League refs win in tax tribunal

A lobby group for freelance professionals has called for a new legal definition of self-employment after a group of football referees secured a tax tribunal victory over HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

The case, involving 60 “level 1 national group” referees some of whom have officiated in the Premier League, Championship and FA Cup matches, emerged after the tax agency argued they should be classed as employees of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL)

HMRC attempted to recover Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income tax and National Insurance from the refs for the three seasons between 2013 and 2016, but the refs successfully argued that the games they officiated in were individual appointments and did not form part of contracts of service. PGMOL stated that, unlike in the Premier League, those referees who participate in lower league games are not directly employed – they may have day jobs and could turn down requests to officiate matches due to other commitments.

The ruling comes on the back of HMRC having lost three out of four cases in tax tribunals on similar issues, and now it is being argued that the Government needs to introduce a clearer legal definition of self-employment.

Deputy Director of Policy at The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), Andy Chamberlain, said: “What this highlights is that the rules in this area are very complex, and if HMRC is struggling to determine who is employed and who is self-employed, then so too is everyone else.”

“The best way to address this legal uncertainty is to write into a law a positive definition of self-employment.

“This would send a clear signal about who is and who isn’t self-employed, and would mean that individuals wouldn’t have to rely on the courts to get a resolution.”

HMRC said “We are disappointed that the tribunal has decided that national list level 1 referees are not employees as we do not think this reflects changing practices within the football industry and the way level 1 referees work in the modern game. We are studying the detail of the ruling carefully before deciding on the way forward.”

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Mohit Pasricha

Mohit Pasricha

Solicitor at Mackrell Turner Garrett
Mohit is a solicitor and Head of Sports Law at Mackrell Turner Garrett, advising and representing clients within the sports sector by providing specialist advice on a wide range of commercial, corporate and intellectual property matters. His clients include clubs, commercial sponsors, sports agents, and individual sporting professionals.