‘Clubs should pass VAT refund to golfers’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 9, 2014 11:10

The chair of the Association of Golf Course Owners (AGCO) has said that all UK private members’ golf clubs should hand whatever VAT refund they receive, following the recent landmark ruling, back to the golfers who paid green fees at their clubs.


Vivien Saunders, who says the VAT refund should be passed back to golfers

In December the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that green fees at British private members’ golf clubs must be exempt from VAT, meaning that those clubs can apply for a refund from the government that should collectively be worth millions of pounds. Some clubs have even stated that the windfall could prevent them from closing down following several financially difficult years.

However, Vivien Saunders OBE, chair of AGCO and owner of the proprietary Abbotsley Golf Hotel and Country Club in Cambridgeshire – which is not affected by the ruling – has written to eight private members’ golf clubs and asked them to list green fee payments going back at least six years. She said the money should then be passed back to visitors from her club and that the letter applies to all British private members’ clubs.

“The European court has ruled that green fees payable at members’ club should have been treated as VAT exempt from January 1, 1990. This means that VAT was wrongly charged by members’ clubs to their visitors from that period onwards,” she wrote.

“Many of the members at Abbotsley have paid green fees at your courses. Those green fees have wrongly included VAT. For the period when the VAT rate was 17.5 percent the amount of VAT included in a green fee equates to 14.89 percent and for the period when VAT was 20 percent, the VAT included is one sixth.

“I feel duty bound on behalf of our members to ask what refunds you propose to make to them individually. Presumably your green fee records clearly show the players from Abbotsley who played on your courses under the county card scheme. You should therefore be able to list those green fee payments. We presume that you have accurate records of the payments made to you by our members going back at least six years. Please provide a list of all those payments so that I can discuss with our treasurer how we can facilitate the VAT refunds. To that end we can provide you with a current list of Abbotsley members to enable refunds to be made.”

A spokesman for one private members’ club said he would not be responding to Vivien Saunders.

The development comes as a spokesman for the Wessex Amateur Golf Tour, which organises golf competitions for green fee paying golfers, has said that its members should be refunded and that it will boycott members’ clubs that do not reduce their green fees in 2014 by the VAT amount.

Meanwhile, tax expert Adrian Houstoun has said HMRC is set to make a statement about the VAT refund shortly.

“It is hoped that HMRC will issue a briefing in connection with the case shortly, so it may be worth waiting for one. Any clubs that have accounted for VAT on visitor green fees and not already made a protective claim should consider doing so,” he said.

“The visitor green fees that are now exempt will reflect on the club’s partial exemption calculations. VAT incurred on expenses solely in respect of the playing of golf, for example on course equipment and maintenance, will be potentially irrecoverable. The increase in exempt income is likely to reduce the amount of input tax recovered on expenses and overheads.

“If you think you may be impacted by this ruling, take professional advice.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 9, 2014 11:10
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  1. richard January 20, 12:16

    Interesting ,Dave
    Suppose you had just purchased, say, a £42000 BMW which included £7000 VAT and the ECJ subsequently ruled that VAT should not have been levied. Would you be so laid back about it if all the VAT were returned to the dealer to treble his profit on the car and you got nowt?.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dave January 21, 20:14

      I’d feel that I had a strong moral right to a part refund of what I’d paid. My indignation would probably be tempered a bit because to buy it in the first place would mean that I had probably just won the lottery!

      Reply to this comment
  2. richard January 16, 10:57

    Is it a victory?

    Private members golf clubs and proprietary golf clubs for some years have been directed by HMRC to charge VAT on visitors’ green fees.
    As I read it the ECJ ruling states that the VAT should not have been charged in the case of private members golf clubs.
    In essence the private clubs have simply collected the VAT and remitted it directly or indirectly to HMRC.
    The VAT was paid by golf societies, individual visitors (UK andoverseas), companies and members’ guests; clearly they are the entities legally entitled to any refund of the VAT.
    Surely, there is no legal or moral reason why the private clubs should benefit directly from a return of the overpaid VAT.
    They will benefit ultimately by virtue of making competitive reductions in green fees and attract custom from proprietary clubs.
    It goes without saying that the goverment will consult (delay) for as long as it reasonably may and will then determine how to implement the return of the VAT.
    Returning it to the private clubs is only one of the options available to the government.
    Others include using a sevices company e.g. G4S or setting up “hotline” through which individuals may make a claim. The latter may be the easiest.
    inevitably the private clubs will have to provide the records of payment whichever method of return is adopted.
    This will place a considerable burden on the administration staff. The government may be forced to pay some compensation for this work.
    Consider also the case of Open Championship courses and Final Qualifying courses. By accident of location (links courses) they are able to charge disproportionately high green fees.
    The VAT component of the green fees will range from £25 for Final Qualifying courses to £50+ for Championship courses.
    It looks like another fiasco brought about as a result of E U interference.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dave January 17, 14:45

      VAT on any supply of goods or services is a liability of the person making the supply not the person purchasing the goods or services. It represents a cost to suppliers who are subject to the liability and so, as with other costs, it is normally passed on in determining the price offered to the customer. Hence the the golf societies etc are not “..the entities legally entitled to any refund of VAT” as you assert and your suggested schemes would not be legal. Of course their moral right to the refund is another question!

      Reply to this comment
  3. Ken Williams January 9, 23:15

    Visitors requiring a refund would of course have to provide their green fee receipt or bag tag as evidence of playing as required by most businesses?

    Reply to this comment
    • John January 10, 08:08

      but would clubs not wanting to claim VAT back on all their visitors and societies have to also provide evidence of what has been paid? I’m sure HMRC would love all that for future reference.

      Reply to this comment
    • John January 10, 08:18

      Does that mean Ken that you actually agree with Viv that any money refunded actually belongs to the golfers that paid it rather than the clubs?

      Reply to this comment
      • Maureen Marston January 10, 11:32

        Well done Vivien
        It’s a good job someone is standing up for proprietary clubs who are so unfairly treated by the taxman. Why should members clubs get any refund of VAT at all as it is impossible for them to trace the green fees to whom any refunds rightfully belong. The clubs only collect it on behalf of the taxman it is not their money. All members clubs trade commercially in the same way as the proprietory clubs. We should all be treated the same.

        Reply to this comment
  4. mv January 9, 22:30

    Very interesting comments from Vivien Saunders. I do ask the question if she would have written the same article if the proprietary clubs case would have been successful.

    Not the first time that she has come out with a clanger!! Some things never change.

    I am also sure that most private clubs vat rebate would be poured back in to the golf club so golfers will benefit.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Andrew Smith January 9, 20:32

    I appealed immediately against our 2010 ratable value increase of 26.8% and the VOA still have not heard the appeal. Is there anyone out there who could rent out their course at the ratable value? I’d be far better off if I could! Maybe I can set up a charitable trust for the day to day running and get 80% at least off the rates bill too. Beats working 24/7

    Reply to this comment
  6. Jon January 9, 17:13

    Why should so called private members clubs keep being baled out for not being able to balance their books? Over 600 claim CASC and pay virtually no business rates yet still take weddings and parties. I doubt there’s much more than a few dozen truly ‘private’ clubs left in the UK. Every other is open for business if you’ve got money to spend. Now I’ve no problem with this as long as golf club committees join the rest of us and pay tax.

    I’d urge everyone to read the link below and then try and defend what is happening.


    Reply to this comment
  7. Graham Pain January 9, 17:03

    Forget the personalities involved in this issue ~ the reality is that the treatment of VAT and business rates is a shambles in the UK as far as golf is concerned. It is simply wrong that the consumer buying a game of golf from one club will pay VAT and buying a game of golf at another golf club they won’t pay VAT. It needs sorting out quickly or the game of golf as a whole will suffer. If all clubs/courses were charging 5%VAT for membership and greenfees it would make much more sense ~ the golfer would pay the same rate tax however or wherever he played golf and all clubs could claim back input VAT on running costs. Seems obvious to me.

    Reply to this comment
    • Gavin January 9, 18:39

      I totally agree and I find it so frustrating that this is being allowed to happen. I really can’t understand how such a huge imbalance can be overlooked, ignored and not recognised by the government and HMRC. It totally baffles me. If England Golf truly wish to develop the game of golf and get more people playing golf in this country, surely this huge issue needs to be addressed before anything else.

      Reply to this comment
    • Richard Thompson January 9, 19:40

      As a fellow course Proprietor I agree 100% with your comments Graham. If there was this discrimination in any other industry this would have been sorted out years ago.

      Reply to this comment
    • Tom January 9, 20:25

      Do you think the golfer cares whether he pays any tax or not?! He just wants to pay whatever the fee is!

      Reply to this comment
      • Tom January 16, 11:56


        ‘Golfers just want their green fees’….of course we do, but we don’t want to pay unnecessary tax. I for one, as treasurer of a long standing golf society, will be contacting all private members clubs we have played during the last six years (and I have all the details) in a bid to recover any overpaid vat element included in the golf fee. Any recovered vat does not belong to those clubs, it belongs to visitors who have been incorrectly charged vat on the fees paid.

        Reply to this comment
  8. tim kent January 9, 16:11

    viv saunders should be applauded for supporting her chair role. BUT really how many clubs will have kept names and adresses of visitors? seen as most wont see that as a great marketing tool theyll have just banked the money and used it against there overdraft.
    good try viv shame it wont work.

    Reply to this comment
  9. mark readman January 9, 15:42


    The first break this struggling industry has gained for years and Vivien Saunders wants to give it away

    Reply to this comment
    • Gavin January 9, 18:32

      How can you possibly refer to this ruling as a ‘break’ for the industry! This ridiculous rule only favours one side of the industry and not the industry as a whole. If the industry is going to grow there should be a level playing field with everyone working together

      Reply to this comment
      • Bryn Jones February 17, 14:09

        This is a bad decision. It’s the big clubs trying to get rid of the ‘New’ Golf Clubs. They charge £20 for a round and keep all the monies. We charge £12 and have to give £2.00 to the government. Very UNFAIR competition in my book. I hope the HMRC makes all golf courses pay VAT on all services and claim back on their spending. Just like every other business has to.

        Reply to this comment
  10. Ray Rudd January 9, 14:44

    I wonder if Vivien Saunders would be as quick off the mark demanding individual golfers are refunded the vat if her club was a private members club.

    Reply to this comment
  11. @TheGolfMole January 9, 14:26

    Hilarious article. Vivien Saunders causing trouble again!!

    Reply to this comment
  12. @MartinW2014 January 9, 12:41

    @DentonGolfClub Pretty Interesting way to get VAT back if you’ve not seen it.

    Reply to this comment
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