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Devereux Chambers barrister Jolyon Maugham QC takes Uber to court over £20 million unpaid VAT

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Just weeks after he launched a pro bono project aimed at holding the government to account

A Devereux Chambers barrister is preparing to submit a case to the High Court which claims that Uber owes at least £20 million in unpaid taxes to HM Revenue and Customs.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who unfortunately for Uber is a tax law specialist, argues that the US-based taxi app giant should be paying value-added tax (VAT) on its fares at a rate of 16.67%. According to Maugham’s calculations, in 2015 alone the firm should have paid the UK government almost £20 million.

However, contrary to Maugham’s view, Uber maintains that it is not liable for VAT because it merely connects drivers with customers, and does not provide a transport service.

Speaking to ITV News, Maugham said:

I’m suing Uber to understand whether HMRC treats these big US multinationals including Uber with kid gloves. Uber undoubtedly has arranged its business model to minimise its tax liability, to dodge taxes if you like, and to minimise the workers’ rights that it has to offer to its drivers.

The decision to sue Uber comes just weeks after Maugham launched the Good Law Project, a not for profit organisation which says it will bring “legal challenges” against the government. Speaking to Legal Cheek at the time, Maugham — still juggling his work commitments as a silk — said he felt “uncomfortable with the direction the country is going in” and hopes to address this through his new pro bono project.

The project’s launch followed two successful Brexit crowdfunding campaigns spearheaded by the Devereux tenant. Last summer his fundraising efforts helped cover the legal fees for a number of secondary claimants, known collectively as the ‘People’s Challenge’, in the well-publicised Article 50 case.

Not willing to rest on his laurels, Maugham — who back in December was forced to defend his working class background in the wake of pro-Brexit Twitter abuse — went on to launch a further crowdfunding campaign called ‘A Brexit for the 100%’. The case, which Legal Cheek understands is due to be heard in the Irish High Court in the spring, aims to establish whether the UK’s Article 50 notification can be revoked.

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30 Comments

Anonymous

For his next project it would be great if he looked into the legality of student loan contracts – i.e. retrospective changes to T&C, adequate provision of information, adequate procedures, continuing deductions from paychecks despite loan being paid off etc.

(41)(0)

SingaporeSwing

Absolutely.

Student loans are complex derivative products sold to teenagers. They are loans with an expiring, amortising, floored floating payment, index correlation floating index, swap attached.

To make matters worse, one of the indices (expected future earnings) is not visible either to buyer or seller.

If the Student Loans Company were FCA regulated (it’s not), they would be getting sued for derivative misspelling, let alone other poor practices such as being unable to tell borrowers their outstanding balance at any time.

It’s a scandal.

(20)(0)

SingaporeSwing

*misselling

(7)(1)

Anonymous

I often misspell derivitive. I hope no one sues me.

(3)(0)

Officious Bystander

> I often misspell derivitive. I hope no one sues me.

Well there’s no future for you as your options are extremely limited.

(Sorry, just a derivatives in-joke)

(15)(0)

Jo Maugham

Funnily enough, I’ve already been asked about that by someone else. The GLP will have an intergenerational thread and we’ll certainly consider that as a possibility. At the moment, I’m just struggling to put the organisational infrastructure in place.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

This guy has such a messiah complex.

(22)(8)

Anonymous

In my experience, all campaigners do. You need a pretty inflated view of yourself to see yourself as the person to sort things out.

The relevant question is whether or not the self-appointed messiah is doing the right thing or not.

(3)(0)

Not Amused

hmmmm

(1)(5)

Anonymous

R v IRC, ex parte National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd [1981] 2 WLR 722, per Lord Wilberforce, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton and Lord Roskill. “One taxpayer has no sufficient interest in asking the court to investigate the tax affairs of another taxpayer or to complain that the latter has been under assessed or over-assessed. And this principle applies equally to groups of taxpayers: an aggregate of individuals each of whom has no interest cannot of itself have an interest. But that is not to say that a case can never arise in which the acts or abstentions of the revenue can be brought before the court, nor that, in a case of sufficient gravity, the court might not be able to hold that another taxpayer or other taxpayers could challenge them (post, pp. 633C-E, 646F – 647B, 662G – 663A).”

(7)(1)

LL and P

Its always interesting when kids think they know better than a tax QC about tax law. If you were an expert, you would engage on this topic with your actual name.

(3)(6)

Lord Harley of Council

It’s got nothing to do with tax law, it’s a basic question of locus leylandii

(3)(0)

Lord Harley of Council

Sorry locus standii! What am I like lol

(7)(0)

LL and P

Something, of course, a QC will have no knowledge of….

Anon

QCs quite often take a view or present an argument which is not supported in court. That does not make a QC ‘has no knowledge’ but it does mean that it is daft to criticise someone for disagreeing with a QC’s argument.

In fact the question of standing which has been raised is interesting. It is sure to be a point that will be raised by Uber and doubtless will require judicial decision. You appear to be saying that to raise that question is wrong because a QC thinks he has standing. That is ridiculous.

LL and P

I suppose my point is that I think someone who has attained the rank of QC would consider the issue of standing before advocating in court. Now the judge may take a different view and indeed a QC could be held to have been incorrect in their assumption that there were sufficient grounds for the case. But the mere fact a case proceeds does not mean that other issues have not been discussed. Anyone who has ever dealt with a barrister knows that they never give a 100% chance of success and all permutations are raised. They plead a case after weighing up the arguments, the outcome is not guaranteed. Therefore the idea that some keyboard warrior teenager can propose something that someone who has attained the rank of QC after decades of practice has somehow missed, is daft.

Not Amused

I’m not a large fan of deference. So let’s just analyse your proposition. You are suggesting that the idea of locus in this matter is clear. You are suggesting that Jolyon *must* be correct because he is a QC. You are suggesting he *must* have thought of R v IRC, ex parte National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd [1981] 2 WLR 722 which someone cited.

Can we just bare in mind:
1) R v IRC went to the HoL – it’s not a first instance decision by a DJ where the law was ‘obvious’;
2) In the HoL it was before 5 law lords in the HoL, not 3, so it wasn’t a ‘basic’ HoL case;
3) the opposite decision had been reached in the CoA;
4) that CoA included Lord Denning MR; Lawton LJ; Ackner LJ;
5) Both sides had QCs representing them in the HoL and we can assume, expected or had a hope of winning.

Jolyon Maugham is a politician. I could say many things about this. I chose to narrow my eyes and say ‘hmmm’ instead. I am not amused by any of this, but the worst possible outcome would be if a generation of impressionable children started to think Jolyon must be right simply by virtue of being a QC.

LL and P

@Not Amused
Read my comments again. At no point did i say the point of locus was clear. I did not attempt to express an opinion on the merits of the case, unlike some others here. I simply said that it is obviously something Joylon has considered and he has probably prepared arguments to prove that. Whether his arguments hold weight to the judge is a different matter. But doing 15 minutes of research and posting on legalcheek does not mean you will come up with stronger arguments than a QC.

Anonymous

NA, they are not saying that at all, they are saying that a QC may well put forward an argument to that effect – the QC might be right and they might be wrong.

Paddy McGuinness

My first car was a Ford Locus.

Officious Bystander

Stand tall, counsel.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

🎼Aw it’s a jorly horliday with Jolyon…🎤

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Done before.

The full version went something like this:

It’s a jolly holiday with Jolyon…

Pretending that he’s working class…

He knows better than the ordi-naries…

Perhaps he’s just up his own ass…?

(2)(1)

Lord Harley of Counsel

Publicity seeking asshole.

(7)(2)

Lawrence Power

Everyone look at me!

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Will Joly’s foundation be instructing his good self in all this litigation?

Nice little earner, off the backs of the crowd funding simpletons, if so…

(5)(4)

Anonymous

A point well raised. Which begs me to question many other actions brought forward by way of crowdfunding.

I’m considering these discussions in my Third party funding book later this year- would be useful to know any authorities you might have.

(0)(0)

Charlotte Proudman

How does he even have standing to sue Uber?

(2)(0)

Top Cat

Go back to sleep Lottie…

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Acting against, and now instead of, HMRC?

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.