Officials from HMRC’s High Net Worth Unit – which usually targets the tax affairs of those worth £20million or more – have also sent out a questionnaire to at least 24 leading clubs demanding details of free holidays, luxury accommodation and other gifts.
Information provided by the clubs will then be cross-referenced against stars’ individual tax returns to assess whether players could be liable for any unpaid tax or if clubs could be forced to make additional National Insurance contributions.
The probe raises the prospect of clubs having to disclose the full array of benefits received by England stars such as Wayne Rooney, who commands a £13million salary, and John Terry, who earns £7million. HMRC investigators refused to reveal which clubs they had already targeted. Spokesmen for Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham all declined to comment.
An HMRC spokesman would not reveal the full details of the document sent to leading teams, entitled The Football Clubs Employment Issues Questionnaire. But he confirmed that it had been compiled to establish how clubs officially account for the benefits received by stars.
A source said: ‘We are not talking about a few low-cost gifts. These people are multi-millionaires.
‘We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was going to bring in a lot of money.
‘It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you work in the UK you are liable to pay tax on your UK earnings.
‘Employers are required to deduct tax from your earnings.’
He added: ‘If HMRC feel there are discrepancies or there are answers they are not happy with it could trigger an investigation.’
The sort of perks that may attract the Revenue’s attention could be first-class flights, holidays, company cars, use of club credit cards, health care and private security. He said the team of inspectors would even look at whether clubs declared tax on payments made to players for appearances on the football clubs’ own TV stations.
The Revenue says its investigation has been prompted by ‘intelligence’ about non-disclosure of benefits.
In the past decade, players such as Rooney, Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have joined the ranks of Britain’s wealthiest.
In 2007, Chelsea’s Terry was given a two-week trip aboard a £72million yacht belonging to club owner Roman Abramovich. Terry’s teammate Lampard has also been pictured on another of the Russian oligarch’s yachts with his former partner Elen Rives.
Two years ago, Lampard was said to have used Abramovich’s box at the O2 Arena in London to watch pop singer Beyonce Knowles in concert.
Many Premier League clubs own properties for new signings to move into when they arrive in the UK. It is believed the arrangements could allow the players to live rent-free while they search for accommodation. There is no suggestion that any of these players or clubs have avoided paying tax or are involved in wrongdoing in any way.
Under HMRC rules, benefits for the stars are likely to be taxed at the 50 per cent rate of income tax payable by those earning £150,000 a year or more. Clubs are also liable for National Insurance contributions on any expense or benefit given to employees, which is usually calculated at 12 per cent of the market value of the benefit in kind.
Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, said: ‘There is a vast array of benefits for football players which would not happen for ordinary employees but they are all taxable. Holidays, some gifts, medical care, cars, mobile phones, meals, accommodation; all these would be taxable as benefits.’
However, he said HMRC may find its rules difficult to enforce as players and clubs dispute what exactly constitutes a benefit in kind.
Bobby Barnes, deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, said: ‘Throughout the Premier League I really don’t think that there are many owners who are putting yachts and holidays at the disposal of players.'