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Presenter pursued

HMRC accused of witch-hunt in £4.9m Lineker tax battle

Gary Lineker: latest IR35 case

Tax officials have been accused of a conducting witch-hunt against high profile personalities after television presenter Gary Lineker was accused of a £4.9m tax dodge.

The Match of the Day host is embroiled in a “disguised employee” dispute with HM Revenue & Customs which is cracking down on freelancers’ tax arrangements.

Tax tribunal documents published last month reveal that the former England footballer has been in dispute with HMRC for over a year.

HMRC is seeking £3.6m in income tax and £1.3m in national insurance contributions from Lineker for work he performed for the BBC between the 2013/2014 and 2016/2017 tax years, and for BT Sport during the 2015/2016 and 2017/2018 tax years inclusive.

He has channelled his earnings through a company partnership which he set up in 2012.

Legislation known as IR35 is designed to crack down on tax avoidance by so-called disguised employees. These workers bill for their services via limited companies and avoid paying income tax and national insurance contributions, despite effectively being employees. Instead, they pay corporate taxes, which are typically lower.

HMRC believes that the arrangements Lineker has with the BBC and others make him an “employee” and so employer’s contributions for National Insurance should have been paid.

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“It is a question of whether he is employed by the BBC or not,” said Jon Holmes, Lineker’s agent. “Most people, once they understand employment law, would say of course he isn’t. He works for many other people.”

HMRC has launched several cases against high-profile broadcast presenters in recent years, including Lorraine Kelly, Kaye Adams and Eamonn Holmes. The former two won their tax cases at tribunal, but Holmes lost. He is appealing.

Dave Chaplin, chief executive of the ContractorCalculator advice website and a campaigner against recent IR35 reforms, accused HMRC of targeting high-profile celebrities “in a misguided attempt to shore up the Treasury’s coffers”.


“HMRC continues to carry out a witch hunt on high-profile media stars and fails to grasp the simple concept that there is a freelance premium, and because of this, freelancers end up generating more in tax,” he said. “HMRC should be thanking freelancers for their contributions, not victimising them as tax avoiders using this cruel legislation.”

IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), has responded to the news that Gary Lineker is involved in the biggest-ever IR35 case. IPSE said the footballer is being targeted, like many others, because of the “needlessly and damagingly complex IR35 tax rules”. 

Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said: “Like so many others, Gary Lineker has been targeted because of the needlessly and damagingly complex IR35 rules.

“He is the latest in a long line of presenters who have been dragged through the courts because of this. HMRC are on very uncertain ground here – they’ve lost several of these cases, including the recent Kaye Adams case at the Upper Tier Tribunal which could have a bearing on the outcome of this case. 

“The problem here is not that Mr Lineker has done something wrong, or that HMRC are trying to enforce tax legislation – it is the rules themselves.

“They are so complex and so open to interpretation that no one understands them, even HMRC, which is why they so frequently lose at tribunal. The recent changes to the off-payroll rules, which have been hugely controversial and costly for business, have done nothing to address this central and critical flaw.”

HMRC said it did not comment on “identifiable taxpayers or ongoing legal proceedings”.

Lineker is the BBC’s highest-paid presenter, earning £1.75m in the 2019/2020 financial year. He has agreed a new five-year contract with the corporation, which will reduce his pay by 23%. During the pandemic, he donated two months’ pay to the Red Cross after calling on footballers to donate money to the NHS.

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