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Football’s image rights and wrongs

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The financial secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride, has confirmed in a written answer to a parliamentary question that HMRC is currently pursuing enquiries into 38 football clubs, 90 players and 13 agents, involving tax payments on offshore image rights. The government recognises that such payments are predominantly an issue in the football industry. The minister also noted in his answer that HMRC has collected over £260m from tackling non-compliance in the football industry since 2014/15. See

In January, the public accounts committee called on the government to take ‘urgent action’ to address exploitation of the rules on image rights in football and some other industries, recommending legislation ‘in the next Finance Bill’. Last month, HMRC updated its guidance in the employment income manual to clarify the tax treatment employers should apply to image rights payments.

The press has also reported this week that 45 former Premier League footballers are suing the professional advisers linked to the Ingenious Media film investment scheme, which HMRC challenged successfully before the tax tribunals. Miles Dean, managing partner of Milestone International Tax, commented: ‘It is highly likely that all investors will have signed waivers so the burden of proof will be very high.’

Not one to mince his words, Dean added: ‘Most footballers tend to have very limited knowledge of tax law, not least very complex tax driven schemes, and their agents are no better.’ Most schemes of this sort fail before the tax courts because ‘the investment element is secondary and the tax benefits primary’, he explained. These were not really investments, Dean said, ‘but were designed to create losses … against which income could be offset; neither the agent, the IFA nor the footballer would fully understand the scheme they were participating in, other than believing it would reduce their tax bill’.