HMRC red-carded over employment status of Premier League referees

referee red card

The Government should write into statute a positive definition of self-employment after an employment tribunal found that HMRC should have treated professional football referees as contractors and not employees, IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) has said.

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) successfully argued that a group of referees – some of whom officiated in the Premier League, Championship and FA Cup – should have been treated as self-employed. 

HMRC had sought to recover PAYE tax and NICs from PGMOL, on the basis that the 60 referees should have been classed as PGMOL employees.

The tribunal found that the relationship between the referees and PGMOL lacked two key features of employment: mutuality of obligation, and control.

Relating to three seasons between 2013-2016, employment tribunal Judge Sarah Falk concluded that “individual appointments to matches were engagements to perform the task of officiating at the match in question for a fee, and not contracts of service”.

The case was PGMOL v HMRC

Andy Chamberlain, IPSE’s Deputy Director of Policy, commented: “HMRC lost this case because, yet again, it misconstrued the concept of mutuality of obligation which it seems to assume is present in every engagement. The tribunal disagreed. 

“That, combined with a lack of control by PGMOL over the referees, clearly indicated that this was not an employee-employer engagement. Unfortunately, we have again had to rely on the courts to make this determination. 

“This comes on the back of HMRC having lost three out of four cases in the tax tribunal that also turned on a misunderstanding of key employment indicators.

“What this highlights is that the rules in this area are very complex, and if HMRC are 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.”