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Is This The Breakthrough? (24.06.2017.)

Many chessplayers are also keen on, and good at, contract bridge, and the two games have similar appeals as both are excellent mental and socialising activities. For decades, the English Bridge Union and ECF have tried, and failed, to convince HMRC that the games should be categorised as sports, thus becoming exempt from having to pay VAT on tournament entry fees. In 2015 the High Court ruled that bridge and chess were not sports eligible for lottery funding, with lawyers acting for Sport England telling the Court that the games were no more a sport than “sitting at home reading a book”.

Consequently, as reported earlier, the long-time organiser of the world’s biggest tournament for junior chessplayers, Mike Basman, was declared a bankrupt for his failure to collect VAT.

Recently, however, the English Bridge Union took their case to the European Court of Justice, and one of its most senior lawyers, the Advocate General, Maciej Szpunar, argued that sport should be understood as something that involved the “training of mental or physical fitness in a way that is generally beneficial to the health and well-being of citizens”, and recommended that Bridge be exempted from VAT in the UK.

He also noted that the International Olympic Committee was among organisations that “expressly include mental sports or endorse activities without a physical element”, having classified Bridge as a sport in 1998.

Also, the 2011 Charities Act adopted a definition of sport as “activities which promote health involving physical or mental health or exertion”, which specifically included “mind sports”.

Advocate Generals’ recommendations are not necessarily binding, but the courts rarely go against their rulings.

Where Bridge leads, English Chess Federation officials must now surely follow, and quickly, to make sure Chess does not miss out. But can it be done before Brexit?

Devon’s opponents in the U-180 team championships will be Middlesex who squeezed past Essex after an 8-all draw and tie-break rules were applied. This will take place at Warwick next month, and will be Brian Hewson’s last match as Devon Captain, having won the West of England hat-trick of the Jamboree in the Autumn, and the 1st & 2nd divisions of the inter-county championship. It would be a great treat to win the National title as well. His final award of Devon Player of the Year went to Oliver Wensley (Exmouth) for his unbeaten run of games against strong opposition.

There’s only room for a short game this week. White: R. Combe. Black: W. Hasenfuss. (Folkestone 1933). 1.d4 c5 2.c4 cxd4 3.Nf3 e5 4.Nxe5?? Qa5+ winning the knight. Combe had the last laugh by wining the 1946 British Championship at a canter in the greatest upset in the history of that event.

In last week’s position (above) Black could play 1… Rd2! with threats of a back rank mate.

In this position, Black is a piece up with a free-wheeling queen. Is there anything White can do about it?

White to play

UK Chess Challenge Swansong?

The world’s largest chess tournament, the Delancy UK Chess Challenge, which annually attracts between 40 – 70 thousand children, came to a thrilling finale in Loughborough recently, with prizewinners at all age groups, and not always the expected ones.

However, it may be a finale in more ways than one, as Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs have declared bankrupt the event’s organiser for the last 21 years, Mike Basman, with a VAT bill of c. £⅓ million for an unpaid 20% tax on the children’s entry fees. Even now, the authorities are assessing his assets to see whether being forced to sell his house in Chessington would cover the bill.

Last January the law was changed to allow not-for-profit sports organisations to benefit from tax breaks. One hundred different sports were so advantaged, including Boccia, Tchoukball, Octopush and Arm-wrestling, to name but four (don’t ask what they are, but the other 96 may be found on the HMRC website), but “mind sports” like chess and bridge were excluded. The English Bridge Union appealed against the ruling but was unsuccessful.

Basman’s case is that he works tirelessly in his own time for the benefit of children, happily pays up to £12,000 VAT per annum on badges, trophies etc. but to become VAT-registered himself in order to process the entry fees would involve the nightmare of accountants, rigorous book-keeping, tax inspections etc. after which the schools would claim back their VAT payments anyway, making the whole exhausting rigmarole pointless.

Many of the children involved are among the country’s very brightest and best, and will be competing in their age-group at world level, as have previous winners. Compare this treatment by the Government to that of our recently returned Olympic heroes and heroines who have had about £⅓ billion of Lottery money spent on them.

Mike Basman deserves a gold medal himself, yet for all his efforts, freely given over two decades, faces being turned out onto the street.

It is also in stark contrast to the way HMRC deals with global businesses like Amazon, Starbucks et al, tentatively asking whether they could possibly spare a few crumbs from their massive profits by way of tax. It’s another example of the old saying about the law being “good at catching sparrows while the eagle soars free”.

The event website, delanceyukschoolschesschallenge.com contains details of all prizewinners, photographs, games, etc. and a petition page where anyone can register their wish to have chess de-registered from VAT like all physical sports. Basman also encourages anyone concerned over the issue to write to their MP, requesting a credible explanation and some effort to get things changed.

The solution to last week’s 3-mover was 1.Bg6! and whatever Black tries White has 2.Bh5 and 3.Qe2 mate.

In this position, Black can survive for 2 moves but will be powerless against White’s 3rd move.

White to play and win