Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has opened a new front in the battle to collect the £32bn in tax it estimates goes unpaid in Britain every year – pursuing football coaches. HMRC has written to 3,300 coaches understood to have a Uefa level qualification – the more professional end of the game – calling on them to disclose and pay any outstanding tax or face possible criminal charges. The Football Association, which was under a legal obligation to co-operate, has supplied the names and addresses of the 3,300 licensed coaches.
In HMRC's letter, seen by the Guardian, the 3,300 people, which will include some well-qualified coaches working part-time at semi-professional level, up to the biggest clubs, are urged to come forward "or face more than a red card".
The letter suggests that some coaches, many of whom work odd hours at different clubs, are not declaring some or all of the money they make, and that tax will be owing. "I am sharing with you the fact that we have received extensive data about coaches from sources in the football community," the letter says. It calls on coaches to declare unpaid tax, "Before we complete our risk assessment of that data". HMRC warns: "We don't want to catch you offside when we risk assess our data."
The focus on football coaches follows similar campaigns aimed at specific occupations where HMRC believes earnings go undeclared, including doctors and dentists, plumbers and electricians. Those who come forward to declare previous earnings will have to pay the outstanding tax, any interest due if it is late, and a penalty of around 10% of the tax owing. HMRC's position is that if people do not come forward voluntarily, and are later found to have undeclared earnings and unpaid tax, they will have to pay the tax, interest, a penalty of up to 100% and face a possible criminal investigation.
"Most football coaches pay the tax they owe, but any coach who has not told HMRC about all of their income should do so now before we come to them," a spokesman said. "This is a chance for football coaches to get onside with their tax affairs."
HMRC would not say how much money its sources suggested has been paid to football coaches and not declared as income. It says its campaign to reclaim unpaid tax from a series of occupations under its "tax catch up plan" has so far yielded £547m from voluntary disclosures, and £140m claimed after investigations. Thirteen criminal investigations are under way, with five convictions secured, including a Surrey plumber sentenced to 12 months in prison in July for evading £50,000 income tax on five years working without declaring his earnings.
The FA at first worked with HMRC on an information initiative to encourage coaches to come forward voluntarily and disclose any tax owing. That scheme closed in the summer, then in December the FA contacted coaches again, in co-operation with HMRC, to clarify that they should disclose any tax owing.
HMRC clearly believes football coaching involves significant earnings, perhaps by coaches moonlighting or working at several different clubs, which are not declared. Yet the best-paid coaches with full-time jobs are unlikely to be vulnerable because they will be on salaries with the tax paid by clubs via PAYE.
There has been criticism of HMRC, including by the tax campaign UK Uncut, for focussing on specific occupations, some modestly paid and for relatively minor sums of money, while major multinational companies avoid what HMRC has estimated at £32bn in tax due.