In Cambridge University Boathouse Limited v HMRC [2021] TC08304, the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) decided the beneficiary of a lease to a boathouse was the rowing club rather than the rowers themselves. The sporting exemption did not apply to the supply and input VAT was reclaimable.

  • Cambridge University Boathouse Limited (CUBL) built a boathouse and related facilities in Ely.
  • CUBL Opted to tax on the property for VAT.
  • CUBL licensed the use of the boathouse on a 99-year lease to various rowing clubs attached to Cambridge University and each club is limited by guarantee.
  • The clubs in turn select, train and field university crews to race against Oxford University.
  • The races are organised and staged by a separate company, the Boat Race Company Limited (BRCL).
  • CUBL claimed input VAT on the basis that the supply of the Boathouse to the clubs was a standard rated supply.
  • HMRC refused the VAT reclaims on the basis that the supply of the boathouse came within the Sporting exemption and was, therefore, an exempt supply blocking the reclaim of the input VAT.
  • CUBL appealed to the FTT.

The law

The VAT sporting exemption applies and makes supplies exempt from VAT if:

  • The supply is made by an eligible body.
  • That supply is made to an individual (which can include a corporate if the true beneficiaries of the supply are individuals) taking part in sport.
  • The supply is of services and is closely linked with, and essential to, sport or physical education in which the individual is taking part.

This case focussed on the second condition. The FTT was asked to take a view on who the beneficiary of the supply was in this case, the other conditions were agreed between the parties.

The decision

The FTT determined that the true beneficiary of the supply of the Boathouse were the Rowing Clubs as:

  • They had the right to use the Boathouse by virtue of the lease for which they were paying.
  • They could use the Boathouse as they saw fit for:
    • Their training programs.
    • The storage of equipment.
  • By contrast the rowers:
    • Had no right to access or use the Boathouse other than at the invitation of the clubs or their employees.
    • They did not pay, in money or kind, for the use of the Boathouse.
    • Had no right to store their equipment in the Boathouse.
    • Were selected by and subject to strict direction from the clubs.

Useful guides on this topic

Sport and physical recreation
When does the VAT exemption apply to sport? What is an eligible body for the VAT exemption? What is a sport?

Opting to tax land and property
What is an option to tax? What do I need to do to opt to tax? What happens if I buy an opted property?

External links

Cambridge University Boathouse Limited v HMRC [2021] TC08304


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