UK Bridge is VAT exempt sport – EU legal counsel

Thu 15th Jun 2017

The European Court of Justice, ECJ, Attorney General (AG), has today advised that the card game Bridge, is considered a sport and therefore no VAT is due on tournament or club membership fees.

UK courts held Bridge needs no physical effort

The UK courts had previously ruled in favour of HMRC that Bridge is not a sport, but a game of chance, and can therefore not be exempted from VAT under UK and EU laws.  However, this has been challenged by the English Bridge Union, which contends that contract or duplicate bridge requires developed brain skills, which promote mental and physical wellbeing.  This would classify it as a sport within the EU VAT Directive, and therefore any related income would be VAT exempt.

In 2015, the UK’s Upper Tribunal court referred the question of whether Bridge is a sport for tax to the ECJ, as the highest court in matters of EU law.  The AG said that to be a sport within the meaning of article 132(1)(m) of the EU VAT Directive (2006/112) , ‘a physical element is not necessary’, arguing that bridge requires ‘considerable mental effort and training’.

HMRC may chose to ignore EU opinion

The EU Attorney General, has trumped the UK in the Bridge tax debate, favouring the ECB that Bridge is a mind-sport, promoting mental and physical well-being and therefore exempt from VAT. Whilst not binding, the HMRC could lose VAT from Bridge tournament or member fees on an ongoing basis if the full ECJ court rules against the UK later in the year.

Given the planned Brexit for 2019, HMRC may choose to ignore today’s opinion. Post Brexit, the UK government will gain full autonomy on such EU-related matters. It will be interesting to see how such debates play-out in the future.

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