Charity exemption for show admittance – The Yorkshire Agricultural Society case
In the Yorkshire Agricultural Society First Tier Tribunal (FTT) case the issue was whether payments for entry into the annual The Great Yorkshire Show qualified as exempt via The VAT Act 1994, Schedule 9, Group 12, item 1 –
“The supply of goods and services by a charity in connection with an event –
1. that is organised for charitable purposes by a charity or jointly by more than one charity,
2. whose primary purpose is the raising of money, and
3. that is promoted as being primarily for the raising of money.”
HMRC raised an assessment on the grounds that the supply of admittance fell outwith the exemption, so it was standard rated. It appears that this view was formed solely on the basis that the events were not advertised as fundraisers.
The exemption covers events whose primary purpose is the raising of money and which are promoted primarily for that purpose. HMRC contended that the events were not advertised as fundraisers and therefore the exemption did not apply. Not surprisingly, the appellant contended that all of the tests at Group 12 were fully met.
The FTT found difficulty in understanding HMRC’s argument. It was apparent from the relevant: tickets, posters and souvenir programmes all featured the words “The Great Yorkshire Show raises funds for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to help support farming and the countryside”.
The FTT spent little time finding for the taxpayer and allowing the appeal. The assessment was withdrawn. There was a separate issue of the assessment being out of time, which was academic given the initial decision. However, The Tribunal was critical of HMRC’s approach to the time limit test (details in the linked decision). HMRC’s argument was that apparently, the taxpayer had brought the assessment on itself by not providing the information which HMRC wanted. The Judge commented: “That is not the same as HMRC being in possession of information which justified it in issuing the Assessment. It is an inversion of the statutory test”.
HMRC’s performance (or lack of it)
Apart from the clear outcome of this case, it also demonstrated how HMRC can get it so wrong. The FTT stated that it was striking that there was very little by way of substantive challenge by HMRC to the appellant’s evidence, nor any detailed exploration of it in cross-examination. The FTT, which is a fact-finding jurisdiction, asked a series of its own questions to establish some facts about the Society’s activities and the Show in better detail. No-one from HMRC filed a witness statement or gave evidence, even though HMRC, in its application to amend its Statement of Case, had said that the decision-maker would be giving evidence. The decision-maker did not give evidence. HMRC were wrong on the assessment and the time limit statutory test and did not cover itself in glory at the hearing.
More evidence that if any business receives an assessment, it is always a good idea to get it reviewed. Time and time again we see HMRC make basic errors and misunderstand the VAT position. We have an excellent record on challenging HMRC decisions. Charities have a hard time of it with VAT, and while it is accurate to say that some of the legislation and interpretation is often complex for NFPs, HMRC do not help by taking such ridiculous cases.