For Ibrox staff, fans, players, creditors and HMRC, this game’s result is pretty much a no score draw.
Going into administration and then liquidation was, as described by former player and manager Ally McCoist, “the most traumatic time in Rangers Football Club’s history.”
Recent publicity around HMRC’s reduction of their tax bill has led some to question the accuracy of their initial calculations. And about whether the club could have been spared this level of pain if their debt to HMRC was lower at the time of their sale.
Are Rangers Football Club guilty of tax avoidance?
In 2017, after six years or legal arguing, the Supreme Court finally ruled Rangers Football Club to be in breach of tax avoidance law. This decision is not being disputed. But the amount owed is being questioned, particularly as a contributing factor to the club’s subsequent financial collapse.
John McClelland, an ex-chairman of the club, said: “At the time of the sale of the club in 2011, had the tax claim been at the level now being reported then, in my opinion, the outcome would have been different. I believe there would certainly have been a much higher level of interest in acquiring it and therefore more potential buyers.”
Because HMRC have since reduced the amount owed, it is thought by some that there must have been a miscalculation at the time, which had a large detrimental effect on the club’s fate after it went into administration.
HMRC hardly ever give a response to specific cases, but they did tweet: “As widely reported today and to clarify: HMRC won against Rangers’ tax avoidance in the Supreme Court, and did not miscalculate anything.”
How did they avoid tax?
Between 2001-2009, players at Rangers FC were paid through an Employee Benefits Trust (EBT). This is problematic because it means that they did not pay income tax on their earnings.
Most employees are paid into their bank account by their employer, having settled their income tax contribution along the way.
An Employee Benefits Trust (EBT) works rather differently. In this instance, the company controlling Rangers FC paid their players’ salaries into an EBT based in an offshore tax haven. The players then received their earnings as a loan from the EBT, paid straight into their bank accounts. This was not subject to income tax because the money was now defined as a ‘loan’ not ‘income’, despite the fact that they had earned it. There was no expectation of the loan being repaid to the EBT.
It’s also against the law.
It has to be said that Rangers FC are not the only company to have used Employee Benefit Trusts and HMRC are investigating and prosecuting many more. In some cases, individuals are being billed for unpaid income tax, as well as the businesses using the Trusts set up. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for any Rangers players or management.
Will HMRC get their money back?
Well, the old company that owned Rangers FC still owe around £90million, just to HMRC. This is for unpaid tax, interest on that amount and a 65% penalty tariff on top for tax avoidance. They also have a whole host of other creditors that are currently receiving 3.9p for every pound they are owed. In June, HMRC’s Penalty Review Consistency Panel decided to reduce their penalty payment by £24m. Further work is still being done on the case and the total bill may be brought down even further.
This is why people are challenging the initial figures given by HMRC at the point the company went into administration. Perhaps they would have found a more suitable buyer if the debt total had been lower.
It has been suggested that one of the reasons that HMRC have simply cancelled at least this portion of the penalty, is that there is no money to pay them with. There’s no point chasing an empty bank account. It may benefit the other creditors, with an extra 3p per owed pound available.
What about the current team at Ibrox?
Rangers International Football Club now owns the team. It is a totally different company, so nothing about the previous tax avoidance scandal has any impact on their ability to do business. This is good news for the recovering team, support staff and fans. But many creditors, including HMRC, are left without their money.