• HMRC believed referees were employed by PGMOL.

  • Tribunal rules that referees are not employed as there is lack of control and mutuality of obligation.

  • HMRC consistently misunderstands mutuality of obligation.

The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) have successfully argued that Premier League referees are self-employed.

HMRC attempted to argue that the relationship between PGMOL and referees was an employment relationship so that HMRC could recover PAYE and National Insurance liabilities.

The tribunal found that there was insufficient mutuality of obligation and control in the individual engagements to amount to an employment scenario, even though the level of integration, the hours worked, the fact that the referees could not obviously be described to be in business on their own account and the fact that POGMOL was their primary paymaster, are elements that may be suggestive of an employment relationship. The individual matchday appointments were engagements to officiate the match for a fee and not contracts for service.


The referee’s code of practice recognises that the FA alone will deal with breaches of referee regulations. In reality, it is difficult to see how PGMOL could demonstrate control over the referee doing his job.  In reality they would not be able to step in while a referee is officiating a match, however badly they are doing. At most they could offer advice and take action once the matchday engagement has ended. Therefore, there was not a sufficient degree of control for employment.

Mutuality of Obligation

The tribunal’s view is that individual match appointments each gave rise to contract, constituted by the offer of the appointment made by PGMOL and its acceptance by the referee through the Match Official Administration System (MOAS). These contracts exist in the context of an overarching season-long contract. Under MOAS the referee could restrict which days they were available and select a preferred geographical area. In the tribunal’s view the contract started when a match appointment was offered and accepted, and even after acceptance, the referee had the ability to withdraw from the engagement before he arrived at the ground. PGMOL was also able to cancel the appointment, demonstrating a lack of mutuality on both sides.

Minden U.K. Limited use Aspire Business Partnership LLP. This firm provide Minden U.K. Ltd with practical and commercially sound advice in relation to all aspects of compliance, business strategy and conflict resolution. Original article can be found on Aspire’s website:   https://www.aspirepartnership.co.uk/News/3191/tribunal-shows-hmrc-the-red-card-over-referee-employment-status