Gary Lineker has won his £4.9m tax appeal against HMRC.
The Match Of The Day host was pursued for the cash by tax authorities, who said it should have been paid on income received between 2013 and 2018.
HMRC said Lineker, 62, should have been classed as an employee of the BBC and BT Sport for his presenting duties, rather than as a freelancer.
The bill came as part of legislation known as IR35, designed to crack down on tax avoidance by so-called disguised employees, who charge for their services via limited companies. The aim is for contractors or freelancers to pay broadly the same income tax and national insurance as an employee.
Lineker had maintained that all taxes were paid on his income via a partnership, Gary Lineker Media (GLM), set up with his ex-wife Danielle Bux in 2012.
His lawyer James Rivett KC told a preliminary hearing in London in February that the star had been “dragged through the papers accused of not paying income tax which has been paid”, and claimed there was a political element to the investigations.
Tribunal judge John Brooks has now found that while GLM was a partnership to which IR35 legislation applies, the appeal should be granted because contracts existed between the presenter and both the BBC and BT Sport.
The judge said: “As a matter of law, when Mr Lineker signed the 2013 BBC contract, the 2015 BBC contract and the BT Sport contract for the provision of his services, he did so as principal thereby contracting directly with the BBC and BT Sport.
“As such, the intermediaries legislation cannot apply – it is only applicable ‘where services are provided not under a contract directly between client and the worker’.
“In this case Mr Lineker’s services were provided under direct contracts with the BBC and BT Sport.
“Although such a conclusion might appear inconsistent with my conclusions that the intermediaries legislation can apply to partnerships… that is not the case.”
He added that he could “dispose of the entire appeal in the appellants’ favour and the appeal is therefore allowed”.
Following the decision, Lineker tweeted: “Thanks for all the congratulatory messages. I am pleased that the Tribunal has endorsed my contention that I have not failed to pay any taxes or National Insurance by reason of the IR35 rules.”
HMRC is considering appealing.
“The tribunal has confirmed the off-payroll rules apply to partnerships, as we have always said,” a spokesperson said. “However, we do not agree with its decision that the rules cannot apply in this case and we’re considering an appeal.”
The HMRC spokesperson added: “It is our duty to ensure everyone pays the right tax under the law, regardless of wealth or status.”
The Lineker-BBC row
Lineker is Match Of The Day’s longest-serving presenter and has been on the football show since the 1990s following a successful football career for clubs including Leicester City, Tottenham and Barcelona, as well as for England.
Earlier in March, the star was forced off air in a row over a tweet criticising the government’s migration policy, with his co-presenters standing down from the show in solidarity.
He returned the following week following talks with the BBC, which has announced a review, led by an independent expert, on its social media guidance – with a focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs.
The football pundit topped the BBC’s highest paid star list in 2022, earning between £1,350,000 and £1,354,999 for his work on Match Of The Day, Sports Personality Of The Year, and other programmes.
Lineker’s tax case follows similar attempts by HMRC to target other broadcasters including Lorraine Kelly and Kaye Adams.
As the decision on the presenter’s appeal was announced, former BBC director-general Lord Birt appeared before the digital, culture, media and sport committee (DCMS) as part of a session in the wake of his three-day Match Of The Day suspension.
He told the hearing that presenters such as Lineker who are “inextricably bound up with an important BBC programme” should have to abide by impartiality rules.
Asked whether he thought viewers appreciated the difference between news staff and freelancers, Lord Birt said: “I am sure the public doesn’t even think about it.
“What it knows is that this (Match Of The Day) is one of the most important BBC programmes and this is a well established presenter.
“And yes, he was one of England’s great centre-forwards but let’s not kid ourselves. His status, his standing and his power arises above all else from presenting this extremely important programme.”
Acknowledging public opinion over Lineker’s tweet was split, Lord Birt added: “I don’t ever think the damage in respect to the BBC is terminal because it has got too much credit in the bank.”