Lawyer tells court to throw out Uber’s ‘hopeless appeal’ against tax ruling

In this posed picture, the Uber app is opened on a mobile phone, backdropped by other transport services in London, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019.  London’s transit authority on Monday refused to renew Uber’s license to operate, with the ride-hailing company vowing to appeal the decision. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Uber's appeal to a tax ruling has been described as 'hopeless'. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

A top lawyer whose campaign group won a court battle that could see Uber (UBER) liable for £1.5bn in unpaid VAT has called the ride-hailing giant’s appeal “hopeless”.

Jolyon Maugham’s Good Law Project this week filed documents with the Court of Appeal, urging it to urgently throw out Uber’s appeal.

The Good Law Project last month won its case against officials at HM Revenues and Customs, who have now been ordered to disclose whether they have assessed Uber’s VAT tax liabilities.

Uber argues that drivers are the ones liable for VAT payments, rather than the company. Its argument hinges on the supposition that it is a platform that brings drivers and riders together, and not a transport business.

The court disagreed with HM Revenue’s argument that its dealings with Uber on the matter were commercially sensitive, saying it had to disclose whether it had made a “protective assessment” of Uber’s tax liabilities.

But Uber filed an appeal to the ruling before officials could actually be compelled to make the disclosure.

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Maugham, known for being an anti-Brexit campaigner, said that an additional £4m in VAT is lost every week that HM Revenue does not raise an assessment on the returns.

“The more time passes without an assessment being raised the more VAT is lost — forever,” he told the Press Association.

“Whatever costs Uber run up pursuing a hopeless appeal will be dwarfed by the £4m or so lost every week if no assessment is raised. We hope and expect the Court of Appeal to give this ruse the short shrift it deserves.”

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The move comes after London transport chiefs last week declined to renew Uber’s licence in the city. The ride-hailing firm has now begun its fightback against that decision, and has launched a battle on multiple fronts.

An appeal to the ruling could take years, since it could reach even the Supreme Court.

Uber also faces growing scrutiny over its business model and drivers’ self-employed status, and lost a UK employment tribunal case that saw drivers classed as its “workers”.