The right of UK sports clubs not to charge VAT on fees for non-members will have to be decided by the European Court of Justice following a referral from a upper tier tax tribunal.
Following the verdict in the case of HMRC v Bridport and West Dorset Golf Club  UKUT 272 (TCC), HMRC reiterated its view that sports clubs should standard-rate supplies to non-members.
The original appeal concerned the Bridport golf club’s decision to stop charging VAT on green fees for non-members in 2009.
The case arose when the club tried to recover the output VAT it had accounted for to HMRC. Any sniff of “unjust enrichment” will usually lead to a tribunal, commented AccountingWEB tax podcaster Anne Fairpo; HMRC doesn’t like handing back hefty VAT repayment cheques, particularly if the organisation is not able to refund the VAT to its customers.
HMRC v Bridport is a lead case for more than 450 golf clubs and other sports organisations. “A single golf club may not sound important, but a lot of VAT at stake,” explained Fairpo in her 13 August podcast.
The club won its initial appeal to the first tier tribunal, but HMRC then appealed to the upper tribunal. In her verdict, Mrs Justice Proudman explained she was referring the case to the ECJ because “the manner in which the exemption may or may not be restricted may be of general importance in the community”.
The ECJ case is unlikely to be heard before the summer of 2013, and until then HMRC set out its view in Revenue & Customs Brief 25/12 that green fees charged by members’ clubs do not fall within the VAT exemption because these transactions were additional income which is obtained in direct competition with commercial enterprises liable for VAT.