The organisation of football and netball leagues and pitch hire have been held to amount to the exempt grant of an interest in land, by the Upper Tribunal (UT) in the Netbusters (UK) Ltd v HMRC [2020] UKFTT 0438 (TC) (2 November 2020)

The question was is this a supply of an interest in land or a supply of sports league services?

The appellant Netbusters (UK) Limited (NUL) is registered for VAT and organises competitive football and netball leagues. It enters into binding agreements with third parties, such as local authorities and schools, to hire venues belonging to these third parties for set periods of time. It then hires these venues to its customers. It also organises competitive football and netball leagues and most of the pitches are hired by teams participating in one of its leagues, either as a block booking for the season or one-off bookings.

It submitted a claim for over declared output tax, on the basis that its main supply was that of an exempt supply of land. HMRC disagreed and NUL appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT).

The FTT allowed NUL’s earlier appeal, finding that the objective character of its supplies was such that they are properly categorised as the granting of interests in, rights over or licenses to occupy land.

HMRC appealed to the FTT decision to the Upper Tribunal (UT) on several grounds including that it was made in error of law. HMRC submitted that the FTT should have concluded that the objective character or economic reality of NUL’s supplies was not the grant of a licence to occupy land but, rather, a supply of competitive league sports management services.

The UT dismissed HMRC’s appeal on all Grounds. The FTT applied the correct tests in law and was entitled to reach the conclusion it did on the evidence available to it, irrespective of whether the UT would have come to the same conclusion.


Should you have any clients involved in letting facilities in similar circumstances they should consider whether this decision could impact current VAT accounting. Netbusters is an important case that could allow a claim of overpaid output tax to HMRC.

HMRC has yet to release updated guidance accepting the VAT treatment in line with the Upper Tribunal decision.

If you wish to read more, please see the link to the case below:

Please do contact us, if you have any queries or would like to discuss submitting a claim on this basis.

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