Part-Time Professional Football Referees Are Not Employees, Tribunal Rules

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Football crowdIn the tax and employment fields, the tricky distinction between employment and self-employment has proved immensely controversial. In a guideline case, however, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) has ruled that part-time professional football referees fall into the latter category.

The case concerned a company that was set up in 2001 by the Football Association, the Premier League and the English Football League to provide referees for top flight football matches. A select group of such referees worked full time and were agreed to be employed. However, about 60 others officiated during their spare time, typically alongside full-time employment elsewhere. HM Revenue and Customs assessed the company for more than £580,000 in respect of PAYE and National Insurance Contributions on the basis that the latter group were employed.

In ruling on the company’s challenge to those assessments, the FTT found that it did have a contractual relationship with the referees. It engaged them on a match-by-match basis in order to provide their services to the Association and the Leagues and, either directly or indirectly, bore the full cost of doing so. It set the level of fees and expenses payable to the referees.

In allowing the appeal, however, the FTT ruled that there was insufficient mutuality of obligation and control in the individual engagements to amount to an employment relationship. The company provided some, but not all, of the equipment required by the referees. It imposed fitness requirements, match day procedures and a code of conduct on them. However, the only sanction it could impose for failure to adhere to those requirements was to withhold further engagements and to remove or suspend a referee from the approved list.

The assessments were overturned on the basis 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.