30 January 2024

Costs are rising across the board, and shooting is no exception: add in the challenge of recent seasons affected by COVID and avian flu, and the pressures on costs are mounting for shoot businesses. As shoots’ costs increase, so the price paid by guns has risen sharply in recent years. Where buying a day’s shooting is a very expensive affair indeed, some respite might be offered by operating the shoot as a sporting club.

What’s a sporting club?

The term “sporting club” is usually used to refer to a shoot that’s run as a members’ club within the VAT exemption for providing sport, and as a result does not have to charge VAT to guns on the price of shooting – think golf clubs or tennis clubs which often operate within the exemption. That may mean that either the price for guns comes down, or in not having to account to HMRC for VAT the club is able to keep and reinvest more of its income.

When is VAT an issue for shoots?

A “shoot” can mean very different things, from rough shooting over farmland, small days run by a family for themselves and friends, up to large shoots providing big bags in the open market. At the extremes of this scale, whether VAT is relevant is likely to be relatively straightforward; people shooting a few birds over a neighbour’s farm are not likely to be within the scope of VAT, but a bigger shooting enterprise run for profit likely is. Those who are in between are in a grey area for VAT.

In very broad terms, any business which makes supplies in return for consideration needs to register for VAT and charge it to customers if their supplies are valued at over £85,000 in a year. Whilst it may sound straightforward, it’s worth examining some of the terminology in more detail.

HMRC asks a number of questions in establishing whether there is a business or not for VAT. These include whether the activity a serious undertaking, earnestly pursued; whether the activity is conducted in a regular manner on sound and recognised business principles; is the activity predominantly one of making taxable supplies for a consideration; are the taxable supplies of a kind which are commonly made for a profit?

Shoots which sell days or pegs may answer these questions positively: the shoot may take up a lot of time, have employees, keep accounts, use a company to limit liability, and shooting can be turned to a profit (for the lucky ones). Some shoots therefore might find that HMRC argues that they are carrying on a business and that they should charge VAT to guns, even though the funds that come in from selling days do not turn a profit.

Not making a profit is no guarantee that you do not have a business: shoots large and small may struggle to make profits, but that does not mean (of itself) that they are not carrying on a business.

Sporting clubs and VAT exemption

However, where shoots do sell days with the aim of funding shooting rather than making a profit for their owners they may be able to benefit from the sporting exemption from VAT.

Shooting is a sport for VAT purposes and where the shooting is provided by an “eligible body”, then it does not need to charge VAT on any fees paid to shoot. An eligible body is an organisation which is non-profit making and not subject to “commercial influence”.

The non-profit element is key: clubs must use surpluses raised from shooting to invest in the shoot, not to distribute profits. Profits in this sense broadly means financial enrichment of the participants in the club, and HMRC uses various tests to uncover where there may be covert distributions of profits. That isn’t to say that the club can’t aim to generate surplus cash, but if it does so it needs to reinvest it into the shoot.

Commercial influence is another way of countering the extraction of profits. For a club to fall foul of commercial influence, someone with a degree of control over the club (either because they’re a committee member or director, or because the club customarily does what they say) must make supplies to the club at over the market rate, or for that person to be paid or receive perks by reference to the level of income in the club.

This is manageable with proper roles in place for managers, and clear lines of supply which are backed up by good contacts and invoicing procedures. Likewise, many shoots will find many opportunities to reinvest profits so that distributing profits is not in question, but again being able to demonstrate this is key, so clear record keeping is very important. 

Setting up a sporting club

The structure of a sporting club can be tailored to the requirements of the particular businesses. Some shoots may need different classes of members, each with different rights to booking in return for certain financial support, or some may need a simpler structure with a single class of members. These classes of members and the rights and obligations they enjoy need to be documented and adhered to.

A club will often take over an existing shoot business, and care needs to be taken in transferring the activities, staff and assets of that business to the new club. New arrangements to occupy the land the sporting club will use may also be needed, or existing arrangements transferred to the new club and care needs to be taken to ensure that works for both the club and the landowners involved.

The documentation of the arrangements, both at the outset and as the club carries out its business over the years, is key to demonstrating that the business complies with the strictures of the legislation. The VAT exemption confers an important benefit on a business, so HMRC expect that the rules are followed and the club must therefore be able show that it has done so through proper paper trails if it were ever asked.

Top tips

  • Make sure the transfer of any existing shoot business has happened properly
  • Identify who is making supplies, and ensure that they are at market value where needed
  • Make sure that any surpluses are reinvested
  • Ensure that the paper work is in order to show compliance.


This article was written by John Barnett and Tim Williams.

Key contact

Tim Williams

Tim Williams Partner

  • Private Client Services
  • Food and Farming
  • Tax

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