Wasps Rugby club being chased by HMRC over unpaid tax bill

·4-min read
Wasps ground - GETTY IMAGES
Wasps ground - GETTY IMAGES

Wasps are being pursued by HM Revenue & Customs over an unpaid tax bill.

After Telegraph Sport revealed Worcester Warriors had been hit by a winding-up petition from HMRC, their Midlands rivals were said to be another Premiership club being chased by the taxman.

Unlike Worcester, HMRC is not currently seeking the liquidation of Wasps, whose owner, Derek Richardson, was forced to deny last week that the club was to enter administration amid suggestions to that effect on social media.

No Premiership club has gone bankrupt since 1999 but the coronavirus pandemic left some on the brink, with a Government bailout worth tens of millions of pounds seemingly not enough to ensure their survival.

Fears over Wasps’s future were raised in May after they announced a delay in repaying those to have invested in a £35 million bond scheme that helped bankroll their 2014 purchase of a 250-year lease on the Coventry Building Society Arena.

Those concerns were compounded the following month when they requested £13 million in public money from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to help pay stadium costs.

The most recent set of accounts for Wasps Holdings, covering the year ending June 2021, showed it recorded a loss of £18.5 million over a two-year period and had net current liabilities of £54.7 million.

The bondholder debt was initially secured against the value of the stadium, which the accounts valued at £52.4 million.

Wasps are the only Premiership club whose Companies House filings do not include notification of a charge being issued against them for taking out a multi-million-pound loan under the Government’s Covid-19 Sports Winter Survival Package.

But Telegraph Sport has been told they did borrow money under the scheme and that, like other teams, their loan is a secured one.

A spokesperson for Wasps said: “In common with a huge number of businesses, we agreed a time to pay arrangement with HMRC on coming out of the Covid-19 lockdowns. We have a strong relationship with HMRC and will continue to engage in proactive discussions with them.

“Many companies and business sectors are in exactly the same situation after the most economically challenging two and a half years in living memory. Individual businesses in leisure, sport, entertainment, conferencing and hospitality have been hit particularly hard and we are involved in all five of those sectors.

“We have a robust business model with a busier than ever order book for concerts, conferences, exhibitions and other events which will see us prosper into the future.”

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We take a supportive approach to dealing with customers who have tax debts, working with them to find the best possible solution based on their financial circumstances.”

At the weekend, Telegraph Sport revealed Wasps were facing possible legal action from Coventry City after their Coventry Building Society Arena tenants were forced to postpone a second home match this season over an “unsafe and unplayable” pitch.

On Wednesday, both clubs announced “extensive work” would take place on the playing surface this week and that a “six-figure investment” would be made into pitch improvements amid the postponement of a third Coventry home game this Saturday.

WMCA told Telegraph Sport Wasps’s request for public money was still under consideration, while Coventry City Council, which owns to freehold to the arena, said: “The city council, including through the chief executive and senior officers, has regular communication and dialogue with many businesses and this has been particularly important throughout the pandemic as the economic context has been incredibly challenging.

“Wasps have been one of these businesses.”

Worcester on Thursday night remained in dialogue with HMRC over its own unpaid bill, having previously said: “The club owners and board are fully committed to preserving top-flight professional rugby in Worcester and have been working on solutions to secure the financial future of Worcester Warriors and to pay outstanding tax owed to HMRC.

“A solution, which would secure the long-term future of the club, has been approved. Unfortunately, there have been unavoidable delays beyond the club’s control to the final tasks required to complete the funding.

“Having kept HMRC fully apprised of the situation, we are disappointed that they have taken the decision to issue a winding-up petition.”