|Pie tax ensures that the chips are down for Dover
By Rick Broadbent and Andrew Stucken The Times December 14th 2004
Eating a festering pie at a football ground has long been regarded as the fat man’s extreme sport, but the VAT man has weighed into the argument about the true value of this much-maligned institution.
In a move that has pushed Dover Athletic, the Ryman League premier division club, to the brink of closure and sounded a warning to clubs the length and breadth of the country, tax inspectors are demanding their pound of flesh for every quarter-pounder sold. Clubs who believed that the sale of hot food and drink was VAT-free have been told that notion is pie in the sky. For many, it is no joke.
The problem surfaced when Dover had a routine VAT inspection in October. Misguidedly thinking that hot food sales were zero-rated, they were shocked to be hit by a bill for £13,000, dating back to 2001, under regulation 709/1.
Dover were already facing a demand for £23,000 under a clause in their Company Voluntary Arrangement and have launched a frantic appeal to raise all the money by December 31 or face the prospect of a winding-up order.
Since news of their plight broke, the hastily formed Dover Athletic Fighting Fund has been taking calls from
worried treasurers, accountants and pie-eaters around the country. Even clubs from the Coca-Cola Championship have reportedly been in touch. A Zurich Premiership rugby union club is also understood to have privately admitted to the same transgression, as have a number of other non-league football clubs.
Manchester United are in the clear, however, with Mike Wells, the chief accountant at Old Trafford, confirming that their club’s culinary mishaps have been confined to the post-match buffet. “Pretty much everything we sell inside the stadium is VAT-able,” he said. “Customs would probably argue the premises even include the car parks. The only way to avoid VAT would be to consume the products in the road outside.”
The claim by some Dover fans that the fare served up at their Crabble ground is not food and therefore deserves to be exempt has fallen on deaf ears. A Customs and Excise spokesperson said: “Hot food for consumption and takeaway is standard-rated and has been for some time. But Customs and Excise will always work to reach a reasonable settlement.”
The community has rallied to Dover’s aid and the Fighting Fund stands at £21,000 after just a fortnight. Politicians from all parties are also getting involved and Gwyn Prosser, the MP for Dover and Deal, raised the matter in the House of Commons last week.
Dover owe about £4 per fan per season for unpaid VAT on hot takeaway food and drink. On that basis, a club averaging crowds of 500 over 30 home matches per season would owe £6,000 for the same three-year period, while gates of 50,000 would create a £600,000 shortfall.
For the punter seeking some pre-match stomach lining, it promises to be a cold Christmas at the club kiosk.
Link to article on The Times website