Despite the wishful thinking of a few, shooting a bird does not turn it into a supply of food at the zero rate of VAT. A sporting right is the right to take game or fish from land. The supply of sporting rights is normally standard-rated for VAT; even where the landowner has no involvement in the sporting activity and simply draws an income from the supply of the rights to a third party, this is standard-rated income and not a ‘rent’.
Consequently, businesses which operate shoots are actually providing the ‘right to take part’ in a shoot. Consequently, it is the granting of a right to take part in a shoot which is subject to VAT when it is supplied ‘in the course or furtherance of business’.
If the income received from shooting rights exceeds the VAT registration threshold (currently £85,000), over any 12-month rolling basis, the shooting business would be obligated to register for VAT and charge VAT to those participating in the shoot.
This also impacts on businesses that are already registered for VAT e.g. a farm where the shooting activity is carried out by the same legal entity. If this is the case, then the ‘right to shoot’ income will automatically need to be accounted for in the existing VAT registration, unless it can be demonstrated that the shoot is run on a private basis.
If a private (not run on a commercial basis) shoot is held then the income is considered to be outside the scope of VAT. Where a private shoot can be demonstrated to HMRC then VAT will not be due on the income. However, VAT cannot be recovered on private expenses so any VAT incurred on private shoot expenses would need to be restricted. For example, use of farm tractor to move the game cart, fuel, repairs servicing etc.
PRIVATE SHOOT/SHOOTING IN HAND
In this instance, the landowner will control the shoot and accept contributions towards the costs from those guns taking part. The contributions received are held to be outside the scope of VAT when the following conditions are met:
1. the participation in the shoot is restricted to friends and relatives; 2. the shoot is not advertised to the public; 3. the accounts for the shoot show an annual loss at least equal to the usual contribution made by a gun over the year; and 4. the loss is borne personally by the landowner.
Sometimes syndicates are set up to enable individual members to share the expense of a shoot under an arrangement as above. The main issue with this is that where the same syndicate has other taxable income; it might find itself exceeding the VAT registration threshold which in turn means it must account for VAT on charges to the members. If the landowner is also a member, they will need to account for VAT on the full value of the grant of shooting rights over the land itself to the syndicate.
Some eagle-eyed groups have taken a slightly different approach to the running of a private shoot in order to treat the shoot income as exempt from VAT by setting up a sports club. Essentially, the VAT exemption applies to most sports when they are provided by an eligible body which does not seek to make a profit and any profits that are made, are reinvested into the club. There have been several tribunal cases where HMRC have argued whether the club is in fact ‘non-profit making’ or the club’s constitution could be amended to allow the distribution of profits. Further arguments include whether the club is a ‘genuine members’ club or whether the activities are essentially ‘non-commercial’ in nature. Any arrangement that is being set up to ensure ‘ordinary members’ are simply subsidising a sports club shoot and therefore qualifying for the VAT exemption should be clearly defined and recorded. All the necessary criteria should be met and will not be suitable for anything that is, in reality, a commercial shoot. If you are planning to arrange a shoot we highly recommend you seek professional advice before the event occurs to avoid any potential VAT issues.