Thursday, 23 June 2011

The game farm tax dodgers - revenue loses millions.

Hundreds of game farms are not registered to pay business rates.  As a result the Treasury is losing out on millions of £s in valuable tax revenues that are used to help fund local services such as police, fire and care for the elderly.

Game farms that produce birds such as pheasants, ducks and partridges for shooting are commercial operations. That’s the case even if farmers with agricultural operations, that under the law enjoy exemption from non-domestic rates, run them. Previous legal challenges by game farms to this have all been lost.

The farms advertise their services in local newspapers, on the web and in specialist magazines such as Shooting Times that is sold in WH Smith. It’s legal and you can purchase a newly born pheasant or partridge chick for a £1 with 6-7 week old poults costing £3.60. Millions will be shot at locations such as the Ingleborough Estate of the Farer Family where a party of eight will pay £20,000 for a day killing pheasants.

All of which makes it big business and five years ago the shooting industry claimed to be contributing £1.6 billion to the British economy and employing 61,000 people.

As all commercial operations that are paying business rates, including public toilets and even the seafront ice-cream van, are listed on the Valuation Office Agency [VOA] website its easy to check which game farms are paying their way by using their registered postal addresses within the ‘business rates’ section.

Over the last ten years that’s just what the UK’s largest animal rights group Animal Aid has done on various occasions, uncovering systematic abuse with a huge list of game farms right across the country not listed.

They currently include Rushwood Game Breeders near York, County Farm in Malton, North Yorkshire, Ashley Game Farm in Devon, Heart of England Farms in Warwickshire and Fayre Game Limited in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire.

Animal Aid has frequently alerted the VOA about their concerns. It wants others to do so if they suspect a game farm is not listed. The organisation would also like to see the government put under pressure to tighten responsibility of those agencies charged with the collection and listing of NDR-liable properties.

Because whilst the VOA is responsible for compiling the lists of farms it often relies heavily on local authorities passing on information such as when applications for planning consent are made. In the past Powys County Council failed, due to no formal link between their planning and financial services departments, to alert the VOA to a massive expansion programme at Bettws Hall Hatcheries and as a result the first years business rates were lost.

Animal Aid’s campaign aims to raise the cost of shooting in order to take it out of the reach of some of those currently participating. Five years ago the organisation successfully campaigned to get HM Revenue and Customs [HMRC] to examine the shooting industry for ‘non-compliance and misunderstanding’ on the need to charge VAT on their activities.

Within months the HMRC had undertaken over 100 estate visits. During which they discovered businesses with multiple irregularities that included not registering to pay VAT and under reporting of sales values. There were even attempts to defraud with some businesses attempting to recover VAT on goods used for shooting purposes by claiming they were for agricultural use. 

Within a year £12 million in previously lost revenues had been harvested. And whilst Britain’s tax department hasn’t issued a total figure in additional tax paid since 2006 it must run into millions. Isn’t it now time the Government started a similar initiative to get game farms contributing.  

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