Football fans can often be heard to question for whom a referee is working. HMRC recently got in on the act before the First-Tier Tribunal Tax Chamber in London.  

Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), which was established in 2001 to oversee the management and administration of refereeing in the professional game, in particular, the Premier League, the Football League, and the FA Cup contended that their engagement with individual referees did not constitute contracts for service.  HMRC took a contrary view, arguing that such contracts were implied, citing the recent Pimlico Plumbers decision.  

The Tribunal determined that there was both (a) an overarching contract for the season and (b) individual contracts for each match between PGMOL and their referees.  The overarching contract did not constitute a contract of service for the period in question leading to the conclusion that the referees were not employees.  

The individual appointments to officiate at specific matches were engagements to perform that task for a fee, rather than contracts for service. It was, therefore, held that referees were not employed under contracts of service during the relevant period.  That said, it is noteworthy that PGMOL agreed to worker status for referees for employment law purposes commencing 2017-18, as a result of which they started to receive pension benefits and holiday and sick pay.  

Employment status remains a grey area. Despite what a contract might say in black and white, it will be open to any Tribunal to look beyond this to determine the actual relationship between the parties. Essentially, each case will continue to be determined on its own facts.

By Paul Sullivan FRSA

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