Gary Lineker in £4.9m tax battle in UK over freelance earnings

Tax authorities accuse Match of the Day presenter of being a ‘disguised employee’

Tax tribunal documents show Gary Lineker has been in dispute with HM Revenue & Customs for more than a year. Photograph: VI Images via Getty Images

Tax tribunal documents show Gary Lineker has been in dispute with HM Revenue & Customs for more than a year. Photograph: VI Images via Getty Images


Television sports star Gary Lineker is embroiled in a £4.9 million battle with the UK tax authority, which has accused him of being a “disguised employee”.

Tax tribunal documents published last month reveal the Match of the Day presenter and former England footballer has been in dispute with HM Revenue & Customs for well over a year.

HMRC are seeking £3.6 million in income tax and £1.3 million in national insurance contributions from Lineker for work he performed for the BBC between the 2013/2014 and 2016/2017 tax years, and for BT Sport during the 2015/2016 and 2017/2018 tax years inclusive.

Lineker’s personal service company, Gary Lineker Media, which was established with his former wife Danielle Bux, disputes that the work done was effectively that of employment.

The company lodged a request to amend its grounds of appeal at the tax tribunal on March 16th, 2020, but the case had remained outstanding due to coronavirus restrictions, the tribunal said.

Legislation known as IR35 is designed to crack down on tax avoidance by so-called disguised employees. These workers bill for their services via limited companies and avoid paying income tax and national insurance contributions, despite effectively being employees. Instead, they pay corporate taxes, which are typically lower.

“It is a question of whether he is employed by the BBC or not,” said Jon Holmes, Lineker’s agent. “Most people, once they understand employment law, would say of course he isn’t. He works for many other people.”

The presenter is currently the BBC’s highest-paid star, earning £1.75 million in the 2019/2020 financial year. However, he has also agreed a new five-year contract with the corporation, which will reduce his pay by 23 per cent. During the pandemic, he donated two months’ pay to the Red Cross after calling on footballers to donate money to the NHS.

But Lineker also works for other media groups, including leading BT Sport’s coverage of Europe’s Champions League football tournament.

HMRC has launched several cases against high-profile broadcast presenters in recent years, including Lorraine Kelly, Kaye Adams and Eamonn Holmes. The former two won their tax cases at tribunal, but Holmes lost. He is appealing.

Dave Chaplin, chief executive of the ContractorCalculator advice website and a campaigner against recent IR35 reforms, accused HMRC of targeting high-profile celebrities “in a misguided attempt to shore up the Treasury’s coffers”.

“HMRC continues to carry out a witch hunt on high-profile media stars and fails to grasp the simple concept that there is a freelance premium, and because of this, freelancers end up generating more in tax,” he said. “HMRC should be thanking freelancers for their contributions, not victimising them as tax avoiders using this cruel legislation.”

HMRC said it did not comment on “identifiable taxpayers or ongoing legal proceedings”. But it added: “HMRC has recently won a number of important cases, including at the Upper Tribunal, which set a useful precedent and give welcome clarity to taxpayers and HMRC alike.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021