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£22m tax debt for football at financial year end

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Football clubs from the Premier League and Football League owed the taxman £22m in “simple” taxes – PAYE, NI, and VAT – at the end of last tax year, April 2010, according to findings from a Freedom of Information request by Sporting Intelligence.

The Premier League’s 20 clubs owed £14.4m between them while the Football League’s 72 clubs collectively owed £7.4m. The outstanding or overdue taxes owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) by football clubs were:

  • Premier League (20 clubs) £14,407,106
  • Championship (24 clubs) £6,412,370
  • League One (24 clubs) £461,859
  • League Two (24 clubs) £534,242
  • Conference (68 clubs) £344,955

Most recent full year figures available, to end of 2009-10 tax year

Premier League clubs accounted for 65% of football’s total tax debt while the Championship made up 29% of the total. League One, League Two, and the Conference made up 2% each of the remaining debt. The average top-flight club owed £720,355 while the average Championship club owed £267,182. Tax debt decreased rapidly beyond that with League One (£19,244), League Two (£22,260), and Conference (£5,073) clubs owing far less on average.

Tensions between HMRC and football have been running high in recent years due to the football creditors rule. The rule means that when a club gets itself into serious financial difficulties football creditors such as players and other clubs must be paid in full before anyone else sees a penny. This means multi-million pound businesses are paid back in full while small local businesses and charities, such as the local plumber or St John Ambulance, can go unpaid.

Premier League head of communications Dan Johnson said: “The Premier League’s starting position is that there should be no debt to HMRC, which is why we have introduced a raft of financial criteria to encourage clubs to run themselves in a responsible and sustainable manner.

“This includes quarterly reporting on any overdue HMRC payments and the ability to intervene if clubs get behind. When combined with HMRC’s new policy of, quite rightly, not permitting clubs to run up debts over time, this will more than mitigate this issue going forward.”

The Football League pointed out that debt among their clubs was actually decreasing and argued that, by showing only one moment in time, the statistics ignored this general downward trend. In August 2009 29 clubs owed a total of £9.6m to HMRC; by August 2010 this figure was down to £400,000 owed by only four clubs. The Football League’s head of communications John Nagle credited this to new financial regulations relating to tax payments pioneered by the Football League.

Supporters Direct chief executive Dave Boyle argued that clubs owe a debt not only to the taxman but also the communities from which they originate: “Football clubs make great play of being engaged in their communities, but that rings hollow if clubs don’t contribute to their communities by paying their tax on time, especially in the current economic and fiscal climate.

“It’s important to recognise that the game has been making progress to tackle these issues, but these figures highlight how far there is to go. We think it’s yet another piece of evidence underscoring the need for a thorough licensing regime across the professional game and the Conference.”

Sporting Intelligence also revealed that clubs in the Welsh Premier League owed £42,583 at the end of the last tax year while HMRC had issued 40 petitions in 2010 against the limited companies that own clubs in the Premier League, Football League, three divisions of the Conference and the Welsh Premier League. A number of these petitions were issued against owners with “previous” – most notably Cardiff City’s old owners and Southend United.

According to Sporting Intelligence HMRC sought winding up petitions against 19 clubs in 2010, named as: Accrington Stanley, AFC Bournemouth, Bishop Stortford, Cardiff City, Chester City, Crawley, Crystal Palace, Dorchester Town, Forest Green Rovers, Hinckley United, Ilkeston Town, Lewes, Notts County, Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth, Preston North End, Sheffield Wednesday, Southend United, Welling United.

Read more at the ever-informative Sporting Intelligence.

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