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Belly Dancing And Bridge


Julie Butler - Expert Author

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3 March 2014

There have been two recent cases testing the definition of what constitutes an exempt VAT supply under Schedule 9 of the VAT Act 1994 – each case looking at a different classification group.

At present, Schedule 9 provides an exemption from VAT for those making supplies of education services, provided that these subjects are ordinarily taught in school.  This means that there are, at the moment, many self-employed teachers claiming a VAT exemption on the strength of this ruling.

However, in order to achieve the exemption there must be some evidence that the subject is taught in at least some UK schools or universities on a regular basis. A recent belly dancing case failed to achieve exemption – Audrey Cheruvier Trading as Fleur Estelle Dance School (TC3148). Ms Cheruvier has a dancing school and six self-employed teach belly dancing.

The exemption was actioned under VATA 1994 Schedule 9 group 6 item 2 “The supply of private tuition, in a subject ordinarily taught in a school or university, by an individual teacher acting independently of an employer”. The taxpayer argued that she offered a serious course of study in a particular dance form and this was equivalent to dance taught in school and universities. 


HMRC argued that there was no evidence that belly dancing was taught as required by VATA 1994. The taxpayer could not show that belly dancing formed a component of any course taught at either school or university. The FTT concluded that belly dancing did not form part of any course taught at either type of educational establishments and thus dismissed the application for exemption from VAT.

Bridge is not a Sport

VAT exemption can also be obtained by non-profit making sporting organisations on competition entry fees – as detailed on group 10 of Schedule 9 VATA 1994.

A tax tribunal dealt a losing hand to the English Bridge Union, who had wanted to be recognised as a sport so that members would not have to pay VAT on their competition entry fees, which amounted to £631,000 in 2012-13.

Although Bridge is seen as a sport – a contract sport, as the joke goes – by other countries, the Charity Commission, the sector’s watchdog, and even the International Olympic Committee; the Tax Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal ruled that Bridge does not involve enough physical activity to make it so in the eyes of VAT law.

The English Bridge Union (EBU) had argued that Bridge is a healthy pursuit, pointing to studies showing that regular contests may benefit the immune system and reduce the risk of dementia. It also insisted that if activities such as croquet, darts and billiards qualify as sports, then the 50,000 members of the union should also be seen as sportsmen and women.

A Sport

HMRC’s barrister turned to the Oxford English Dictionary backed by the Council for Europe’s sport charter which explains that sport “aims at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels”. This was the definition HMRC had adopted and it had previously confirmed at a VAT Tribunal in the Royal Pigeon Racing Association case [VDT 14006].

It was considered a key objective of the VAT directive to encourage physical activities in the public interest, when provided by non-profit making objectives - VAT reference notice 701/45. The Tribunal interpreted the European Court of Justice’s (CJEU) ruling that the directive was designed NOT to promote wider health, but to make sporting activities more accessible to a wider section of the population, this being a key difference when applying the VAT exemption.

The EBU’s barrister, David Ewart, QC, asked whether it was “really possible to draw a distinction between the mental skill needed in planning a snooker shot, or a croquet stroke, and the physical skill used in executing it”. Judge Charles Helllier explained: “To our minds, sport normally connotes a game with an athletic element, rather than simply a game”. In passing judgement, Judge Hellier admitted qualms that failing to recognise Bridge as a sport might discriminate against older people, who form the majority of players.

This is considered to be a case that might run and run like Jaffa Cakes, or it might just play and play!

Concern over VAT exemptions under Schedule 9

These cases show the “grey” interpretation of exempt or “VAT free” supplies.  There are some taxpayers not utilising the exemption and some claiming it when they should not. Examples here include riding lessons, which can qualify as an exempt supply as evidence that this subject is taught in schools has already been obtained and yet certain yards still charge VAT on their services; and other services such as belly dancing who cannot apply the exemption due to lack of evidence as qualifying, and yet services are still provided free of VAT.

Action Plan

The key to claiming the VAT exemption for the professional advisor is to obtain evidence of qualification of the supply, i.e. providing proof that the subject is ordinarily taught in schools, for example, and thus would survive scrutiny in a Tribunal.

There is much scope for advisers to promote real exemptions to the public. The “Bridge” case has attracted a lot of public interest (even more than the Jaffa Cake) and now is the time to engage the public and actively advertise the genuine VAT advantages available to them.

About the Author

Supplied by Julie Butler F.C.A. Butler & Co, Bennett House, The Dean, Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9BH.  Tel: 01962 735544.  Email;, Website;

Julie Butler F.C.A. is the author of Tax Planning for Farm and Land Diversification (Bloomsbury Professional), Equine Tax Planning ISBN: 0406966540, and Stanley: Taxation of Farmers and Landowners (LexisNexis).

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2014-05-29 09:05:15 in Tax Articles

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