Gary Lineker: broadcaster disputes £4.9m tax bill after HMRC tax avoidance clampdown

In 2022, Match of the Day host Gary Lineker was BBC’s highest paid presenter. But Lineker argues he’s a freelancer rather than a BBC employee.

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A £4.9 million tax tussle rages on, as former football star and sports broadcaster Gary Lineker clashes with the taxman over whether he was a BBC employee or a freelancer for tax purposes.

The Match of the Day host is the subject of a preliminary hearing that kicked off in London on Monday, where his lawyers argued HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was “looking in the wrong place” and should have assessed the BBC.

Lineker was told that he should have been classed as an employee of the BBC and BT Sport for his presenting duties, rather than as a freelancer. HMRC is now pursuing him for £4.9 million that it claimed should have been paid on income received between 2013 and 2018.

It comes as part of legislation known as IR35, designed to clampdown on tax avoidance by so-called “disguised employees”, who charge for their services via limited companies.

Lineker insists all taxes were paid on the income via a partnership set up in 2012 with his ex-wife Danielle Bux and is appealing against the demand. On Monday, the hearing was told Lineker had now paid the income tax in full.

Sports Broadcaster Gary Lineker is the subject of a £4.9 million tax battle with HM Revenue and Customs (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Sports Broadcaster Gary Lineker is the subject of a £4.9 million tax battle with HM Revenue and Customs (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Sports Broadcaster Gary Lineker is the subject of a £4.9 million tax battle with HM Revenue and Customs (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rivett KC, representing Mr Lineker, argued: ”What should have happened is that HMRC should have assessed the BBC for tax and that isn’t what happened.

“IR35 has nothing to do with it, they just looked in the wrong direction, and it proceeds from this assumption that a partnership is in some way an entity, and it isn’t, not this type of partnership,” he said.

Mr Rivett said the case the HMRC is setting out “cannot apply” in this instance.“HMRC are looking in the wrong place here, if they thought there was a quasi-employment relationship between Mr Lineker and the BBC and BT Sport they should have assessed them.”

“They shouldn’t have used this tortuous machinery to do it which gives rise to all sorts of issues of double taxation.” He added: “We’re in front of you to argue an appeal in respect of an amount of income tax that everybody acknowledges has been paid.”

The presenter is expected to argue that his partnership Gary Lineker Media (GLM) is required to funnel his income through because of the wide variety of work he does.

Mr Rivett said: “There is a direct contract between Mr Lineker and the BBC, in the vast majority of circumstances you would bend over backwards as a tax avoider to not have a direct contract between the worker and the engager… But here there was a direct contract.”

He added: “In these circumstances there was no reduction in tax on the part of Mr Lineker, there is a reduction in national insurance contribution viewed overall to HMRC but that is because of the BBC and BT Sport.”

Individuals who were sole traders were subject to an entirely different regime from those employed directly, Mr Rivett said. “There’s never been any suggestion that in these circumstances Mr Lineker was up to tax avoidance.”

HMRC is expected to argue Lineker’s extensive work for BT Sport and the BBC means he should be classed as an employee for tax purposes.

Akash Nawbatt KC, beginning his arguments on behalf of HMRC on Tuesday afternoon, said: “HMRC is not looking in the wrong place, it is looking where the legislation directs it to look at.

“It’s the partnership which is liable to any tax, not the BBC or BT.” He added Lineker may find this “unfair”, but it is the “consequence” of legislation.

It follows similar attempts by HMRC to target broadcasters including Lorraine Kelly and Kaye Adams, in which both won their cases on appeal

In July, the BBC’s annual report detailing how much they paid their presenters showed Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker topped the charts for a fifth year in a row. Lineker was said to be earning around £1.35 from his gig as the football highlights show presenter, which is down from his previous earnings after he took a pay cut from £1.75m.