Pools firm Sportech increases VAT claim against the taxman to £95m

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Football Pools company Sportech said £95 million is now at stake in its row with the taxman over the Spot the Ball competition.

The Liverpool-based company, which has its roots as an Edinburgh technology business, won a court battle against HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in March after arguing it was incorrectly charged VAT on its competition between 1979 and 1996.

But HMRC is fighting the ruling and an appeal will be heard in April. Sportech said yesterday that its VAT claim has increased from £80m to £95m, including interest.

The dispute centres on whether Spot the Ball – where players win a prize if they correctly identify where a football is in a photo – is a game of skill or chance.

The company scored a victory in March when the High Court’s First-tier Tribunal’s Tax Chamber ruled the once-popular newspaper promotion was a game of chance, and therefore not eligible for VAT.

Sportech said it “remain(s) confident in our arguments and a successful outcome of the appeal”, but is exploring its options to “secure financial benefit” if the appeal goes against it.

The group also revealed a dip in half-year profits and revenues as punters spending more on the football pools failed to offset shrinking numbers playing the 90-year-old game. Football pools customers numbers slid 11 per cent year-on-year to 350,000 at the end of June – a low point in the football season – but it is trying to broaden the game’s appeal by teaming up with France-Pari for a launch in France.