UK wins EU ruling that Bridge is not VAT exempt sport

Thu 26th Oct 2017

The European Court of Justice, ECJ, has today ruled that the card game Bridge is not considered a sport, and therefore 20% VAT is due on tournament or club membership fees.  The European court was referred the question by the UK courts, and agreed with the UK’s HMRC conclusion that Bridge did not include a significant physical element to constitute a VAT-free sport.

The UK courts had previously ruled in favour of HMRC vs the English Bridge Union (EBU) 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 had been challenged by the EBU, which contended 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 UK has won the great Bridge debate – enabling HMRC to charge VAT on Bridge tournament or member fees. 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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