HMRC wins Sportech appeal

17 Sep 2014 | by Caroline Sweeney

The Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) has allowed HMRC’s appeal in HMRC v Sportech plc and others [2014] UKUT 0398 (TCC).  The case concerned the correct VAT treatment of “judged” or “panel” “Spotting-the-Ball” or “Spot-the-Ball” competitions.  From 1979, VAT was charged on the entry fee for taking part in “Spot the Ball” competitions.  In 2009, the operators of the competitions sought to challenge that tax treatment, contending (for VAT purposes, at least) that the entry fee was, instead, consideration for the provision by the operators of facilities for the “playing of a game of chance”; that, consequently, the operators’ supplies should have been exempt from VAT; and that, therefore, they had overpaid VAT to HMRC between 1979 and 2006.  The First-tier Tribunal ruled in favour of the operators (see The “Spotting The Ball” Partnership and others v HMRC [2013] UKFTT 210 (TC), http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKFTT/TC/2013/TC02624.html).  The Upper Tribunal has allowed HMRC’s appeal, holding that there was no “game”; and that completing and posting a coupon was not “playing”.

According to press reports, the operators will now be required to repay to HMRC approximately £93 million (representing tax and interest) that HMRC paid to them in June 2014 (i.e. after the hearing of the appeal in the Upper Tribunal, but before the result of the appeal was known).

This case have been featured in various media, including The Times.