By Jonathan Himpe, Attorney at Law, Belgium (*)
In a recent advance tax ruling of 14 November 2017 (No. 2017.711), the Belgian Ruling Committee has confirmed that a Belgian football club can grant a monthly lump-sum tax-free allowance to several of its players and staff to compensate for business-related expenses.
More specifically, a club organised as a non-profit organisation requested the Ruling Committee to confirm that the lump-sum allowances to be paid to its players, coach and assistant coach of the first team squad, as well as to the youth coordinator, would qualify as a (tax-free) reimbursement for “costs proper to the employer” within the meaning of Article 31, second paragraph, 1°, in fine of the Belgian Income Tax Code 1992.
The lump-sum allowance would be paid to the players in addition to the bonuses they receive for a draw or a won match (which bonuses can vary from player to player), and to the staff in addition to their fixed monthly fee. The bonuses and fixed fees are both subject to Belgian withholding tax.
After a brief investigation, in which the requested reimbursed costs were verified, the Ruling Committee accepted a lump-sum tax-free allowance of €150 per month for 10 months per year for the reimbursement of football shoes; pharmacy costs; physiotherapist costs; training materials; mobile phone; and laundry costs.
Furthermore, the Ruling Committee accepted a tax-free mileage allowance for away game travel expenses and for travel expenses borne by trainers when scouting opponents. The mileage allowance must be equal to the actual kilometres travelled (from the club’s ground to the opponent’s ground, and back) multiplied by a coefficient set by the government; for the period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, this coefficient is fixed at €0.3460 per kilometre.
The Ruling Committee requires that a nominative list of players and staff benefitting from the lump-sum allowances is kept by the club, as well as that the allowances are justified by individual fee forms. If these conditions are not met, the deductibility of the allowances might still be refused by the tax authorities in the event of a later tax audit.
Naturally, the costs covered by the lump-sum allowances may not be deducted as a professional expense by the players and/or staff; neither may these costs be reimbursed by the club for a second time on the basis of actual supporting documents (receipts, invoices, and so on).
The tax ruling is valid for a period of five years and can be extended upon the written request of the club before its expiration.
The advance tax ruling, discussed above, can be compared with two previous rulings from 2014, in which the Ruling Committee had already accepted the following lump-sum tax-free allowances:
- Advance tax ruling of 17 June 2014 (No. 2014.209): a lump-sum tax-free allowance varying between €27.00 and €62.50 per week for 40 weeks per year paid to players and staff of the first team squad (including youth players and occasionally selected players not permanently belonging to the first team squad, provided their allowance is evaluated per game played) for the reimbursement of laundry costs (€5.00); home office (€31.50, staff only); football shoes (players: €10.00; staff: €5.00); pharmacy costs (€2.00, players only); communication costs (players: €5.00; staff: €16.00); and training materials (€5.00 ).
- Advance tax ruling of 19 August 2014 (No. 2014.328): a lump-sum tax-free allowance varying between €225 and €240 per month for 46 weeks per year paid to players and staff of the first team squad for the reimbursement of office expenses; subscriptions for professional documentation; registration fees for extra training and education; laundry costs; purchase of training materials; football shoes; fitness subscription; physiotherapy and medical costs; scouting costs; and representation costs.
From the foregoing, it may be concluded that Belgian football clubs, in addition to taxable match bonuses and fixed fees, can remunerate their players and/or staff by means of a tax-free lump-sum allowance for the reimbursement of costs proper to the employer.
In order to rule out discussions with the tax authorities about the valuation of the lump-sum allowance in the event of a later tax audit, an advance tax ruling can be requested by the Belgian Ruling Committee.
Clubs wishing to apply for such an advance tax ruling may contact the author, at the e-mail address below, or can make use of the standard forms published on the webpage of the Belgian Ruling Committee (http://www.ruling.be).
(*) Jonathan Himpe is a qualified lawyer in Belgium. He is also a researcher at the “Law, Tax & Business Unit” of Hasselt University, Belgium.
Jonathan Himpe may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.