Game farmers in foul play

Mark Metcalf examines the tax payments of the firms that produce birds such as pheasants for shooting

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Many northern game farms are not registered to pay business rates, according to animal rights campaigners. As a result the Treasury could be losing millions in tax revenues.

Game farms that produce birds such as pheasants, ducks and partridges for shooting are commercial operations. That’s the case even if run by farmers with agricultural operations that enjoy exemption from non-domestic rates.

The farms advertise their services in local newspapers, on the web and in specialist magazines such as Shooting Times. Thousands of birds 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 shooting pheasants.

Business rates

Five years ago the shooting industry claimed to be contributing £1.6 billion to the British economy and employing 60,000 people.

All commercial operations paying business rates are listed on the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) website and over the last decade Animal Aid has used this to check that game farms are paying the correct tax. The animal rights group claims there is still a long list of game farms, many in the north, that are not listed.

In the past Animal Aid has alerted the VOA about its concerns. When the biggest game farm in Britain, Bettws Hall Hatcheries in Powys, underwent a major expansion the organisation complained that its rateable value had stayed the same. The result was that the property’s value was pushed up by £50,000, bringing in an additional £20,000 a year to the Treasury.

Five years ago Animal Aid successfully campaigned to get HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to examine the shooting industry for “non-compliance and misunderstanding” on charging VAT on its activities.

Fair share

HMRC uncovered businesses with multiple irregularities that included not registering to pay VAT and under-reporting of sales. There were also efforts 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 missing tax had been recovered. Animal Aid would now like to see a similar initiative to get game farms contributing their fair share to the Exchequer.

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