Three-quarters of five-a-side footballers would quit the game or play less often if controversial government plans to charge VAT on five-a-side went through, a Club Website poll can reveal.
Five-a-side providers are currently exempt from paying VAT, but a tax clampdown by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs could see them forced to pass on the bill to customers.
This would cost players around an extra £1 per session, which adds up to an extra £100 per year for someone who plays twice a week.
37% of five-a-side footballers polled by Club Website said that they would give the game up altogether if VAT (20%) was added to their playing costs, while a further 37% said they would play less often than they currently do.
Only 26% of people who play small-sided football said they would continue to play as often as they do now.
Of the 1,193 people polled, only one in five (242) said they don't play five-a-side, demonstrating the current popularity of the game, which many people find is the easiest way to play football due to the short time constraints involved.
Providing land for people to play five-a-side on is exempt from tax, but HMRC argues that leagues go well beyond that by providing extra services that are taxable - e.g. changing facilities, fixture organisation - and so plan to crack down on hundreds of venues that allow thousands of players to play five-a-side without paying VAT.
The controversial move was highlighted this month by The Telegraph newspaper, who have started a campaign to get HMRC to back-track on the proposals.
"We believe the Government should be encouraging participation, not taxing it," reads the newspaper's campaign page.
The campaign, which calls for people to sign a 5,000-strong petition, has received support from Ministers and senior sports figures, including PFA Chief Executive Gordon Taylor, who described the plans as “punitive and hitting the wrong areas".
"I have paid taxes all my life and so do all the members of the PFA," Taylor told the Telegraph. "The game pays a massive tax burden and I think in return for that there should be some consideration given for the long-term benefits of people participating in sport.”
“I appreciate these are times of austerity but I think it is very ironic hosting the Olympics which is costing a great deal of money and wanting a legacy of people participating in sport and then looking to penalise people who are prepared to try to keep fit,” he added.
“It seems rather a contradiction in terms where we are wanting people to be healthy and save ourselves big bills on the NHS.”
Charged by Sport England - a government agency - with increasing the number of people playing football, the Football Association has recently launched new schemes such as 'Just Play!' and Football Mash Up (right) to get more people playing the game.
The proposed introduction of VAT on five-a-side now threatens to undo this good work. If only half of those threatening to give up the game went through with their plans, the effect on participation figures could be very damaging.
Over a million people play small-sided football, including 5-a-side, at least once a week in England. Not all 5-a-side providers would be taxed, although it is believed the majority of the larger providers would be liable, thus forcing them to consider increasing charges to paying customers and re-assessing their approach to free sessions for children and underprivileged groups.
One of the biggest providers, Lucozade Powerleague, said that it would have to reconsider the number of free or subsidised events they put on in their 44 centres around the UK.
“We run a very active corporate social responsibility programme,” commercial director Nigel Hargreaves told the Telegraph.
“Clearly, any pressures resulting from this change in tax may mean that some of those wider social agendas that we are trying to support may come under threat.”
The poll results have been backed up by an angry response to the plans from Club Website members, who voiced their displeasure on our Facebook page when we broke the news earlier this month.
Trevor Stephenson described five-a-side costs as "over the top" already and a further increase as "crazy", while Derek Mitchell rebuked the Government, saying: "They want you to exercise and this is how they encourage it!"
Darren Little added: "What a bloody cheek! They encourage you to take part in these leagues etc. & then slap a tax on you getting exercise. On about taking the p***!"
You can find out more about the campaign to scrap VAT on 5-a-side football and sign the petition on the Telegraph website.
CW Poll: If the government added VAT (20%) to 5-a-side football charges, would you still play the game?
5-a-side players (951) said:
* I'd give it up altogether 37.3%
* I'd play less often than I do now 36.8%
* I'd play as often as I do now 25.9%
Non 5-a-side players: 242
Total votes cast: 1,193