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Gary Lineker and employment status

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Gary Lineker is hitting the headlines again, this time after accusations of tax avoidance. Will he win his case?

10th May 2021
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I can’t remember the last time that an employment status case made the headlines across all sections of the media.

However, when former footballer and current sports pundit Gary Lineker is involved and repeatedly in the frame for close to £5 million of income tax and NIC, our arcane discipline becomes glamorous.

Some of the best coverage has come from my colleague Richard Hattersley, who clearly understands the issues involved rather better than other journalists assigned to the story.

What I want to do here is debunk some of the less likely suggestions and also consider one or two of the factors that might ultimately determine the case.

To start with, the headline figure sounds good but the amount actually at stake appears to be in the range of £500,000-£1 million. That is because a large proportion of the liability has already been paid by other means.

Lineker had arranged his affairs such that income from appearances on Match of the Day and BT Sport’s UEFA Champions League broadcasts was paid to Gary Lineker Media, a partnership with his ex-wife Danielle.

From bitter experience, I will repeat the advice I have tactfully given to many clients in the past: it is unwise to set up a partnership or company with somebody who might become your ex-wife.

Forget about any fights over tax with HMRC. Whether in court or outside between lawyers, divorce cases are far nastier and potentially much more costly.

The former England star might have known better, given that this is not the first time in recent years that he has been through the process of exiting a marriage.

Commentators have suggested that since Gary Lineker had so many diverse sources of income, his work for the broadcasters could not have been categorised as employment.

Pull the other one. Decisions regarding employment status always based on the circumstances of the individual contractual relationship. The fact that someone is self-employed in connection with one activity will often have little or no bearing on their status in another.

Similarly, the information that one or more of his “employers” reckons that the relationship should be treated as self-employment means nothing. Had HMRC determined that status, then Mr Lineker would have a far stronger position.

If someone wants to win a tribunal case hands down, then the strongest evidence in status cases often comes from the ability to substitute one worker with another.

I have to confess that Match of the Day is not on my favourite viewing list but, having discussed the programme with addicts, none of them can remember the occasions on which Danielle Lineker presented the programme because Gary didn’t feel like it.

More pertinently perhaps, had Gary L recruited the services of say Paul Gascoigne or Diego Maradona to act as a replacement, at the partnership’s cost, that would also be a slam dunk winner. One problem here might be that so few footballers appear able to articulate intelligibly in English.

An alternative route that would also do the trick could be to demonstrate that the man who was reputedly paid £1.75 million a year by the BBC had control over his destiny.

For example, if he is able to demonstrate that, on one or more occasions, he managed to shift the start time of Match of the Day for his own convenience, perhaps bringing it forward to 4 p.m. while matches were still in progress, that would surely lead to victory.

It may not be quite as compelling but if the star shows proof that on frequent occasions he informed the BBC that he could not be bothered to appear, that would be good. The shorter the notice the better.

Some commentators have also scoffed at HMRC for taking a relatively small claim to tribunal. They are missing the point. The precedent set could be worth many hundreds or thousands of times the amount at stake in this one case.

If nothing else, the publicity of a big win (if they do win) would persuade many to revise their tax arrangements or pay more tax voluntarily, to avoid following Mr (and ex-Mrs) Lineker through the courts. Those in our profession would also take note and might feel obliged to change advice to clients.

Realistically, I fear that Gary Lineker may struggle to prove any one of these strong determinants of self-employment. Instead, he will need to rely on some good lawyers, some good luck and a case that is likely to revolve around control.

One newspaper report suggested that his propagation of strong political views might be valuable evidence. If that were the case, I fear that very few people would be employees and the Chancellor would have an even bigger black hole in his budget.

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Replies (4)

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By Justin Bryant
13th May 2021 16:28

There are too many errors in the above analysis to mention, which is ironic given its criticism of the analysis of all this elsewhere.

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By NeilW
14th May 2021 10:42

"I fear that very few people would be employees and the Chancellor would have an even bigger black hole in his budget."

I do find this line tiresome - particularly from accountants who should know better.

If HMRC takes money from a person, then that simply means that whoever would have received that person's spending as income no longer gets that income, which means they spend less elsewhere, and so on down the spending chain. The cumulative tax from that eliminated spending chain would match the tax HMRC collected - other things equal.

What tax does, overall, is reduce the number of transactions in the economy - so that there is room for public spending to occur. Tax avoidance is insidious not just because of the distributional fairness angle, but because it may contribute to excess spending and inflation.

The taxation raised will always match what government spends to the penny for any positive tax rate - as long as everybody spends everything they earn. Do the maths. It's a simple geometric progression.

Which tells you that the 'black hole' is down to people not spending everything they earn. Also known as 'saving'.

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By memyself-eye
17th May 2021 11:56

Isn't the largest (alleged) shortfall employers NIC's?
That being so, why are HMRC not pursuing the BBC - whose responsibility it was to determine status?

Or has IR35 now morphed into a catch all for anyone not "employed"

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By AndyC555
17th May 2021 13:36

"One problem here might be that so few footballers appear able to articulate intelligibly in English."

An unnecessary and snide comment.

Footballers are a cross-section of the community and there are as many intelligent footballers as in any other cross-section - How about Glenn Johnson currently enrolled at the Open University doing a degree in maths, Frank Lampard with a tested IQ of over 150, Clarke Carlisle with a degree in sports journalism and even Aberdeen's Sam Cosrove who is currently studying for an advance diploma in accounting with AAT to name just a few. Perhaps the author would like to talk 'intelligibly in English" to Romelu Lukaku? Then he could try in Spanish, Dutch, French and Portuguese as Lukaku speaks all of these.

The author's inference that footballers are all 'thick' says more about him than it does about footballers and I'm disappointed AccountingWeb saw fit to allow such a cheap shot into an article.

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