In Abbotsley Limited & Others v HMRC  UKUT 0191, the Upper Tribunal (UT) found that the CONGU handicap system was essential to golf, such that the fees paid towards its administration are exempt.
- Golf courses were owned by the following appellants:
- Abbotsley, a limited company
- Cambridge Meridian, a partnership
- The third appellant Cromwell, an unincorporated association, is a members’ club and the members play on a course owned by Abbotsley.
- Members of the golf clubs affiliate to that club and pay affiliation fees.
- The clubs may pay affiliation fees to affiliate with a county union or association.
- The county unions affiliate to the national union.
- The national union is a member of the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU).
- The various unions and associations are non-profit making.
- The clubs often choose to pay the affiliation fees to attract members.
- The principal service provided by the unions and associations in return for the payments is the management of the CONGU handicapping system. This system is only available to affiliated clubs.
- The appellants argued that the fees charged could not be exempt:
- The exemption only applied to non-profit making businesses.
- To be within the exemption the services must be essential to the sport and the services provided were not.
The UT agreed with the First-Tier Tribunal that the affiliation fees charged to the golf clubs were exempt:
- EU case law does not differentiate between profit making and non-profit making organisations in respect of the exemption. As most businesses are profit making, it would have done so had it meant to restrict the exemption to non-profit making organisations.
- The main service received was the management of the CONGU handicap system. Without the CONGU handicap it would be impossible to participate in golf of the same value.
- The handicap allows people of all abilities to compete in serious golf competitions.
- The handicapping system is therefore essential to the sport of golf. This means the services provided for the affiliation fee were essential to sport and exempt.
Link to case: Abbotsley Limited & Others v HMRC  UKUT 0191
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