TrailAddiction Collapsed After Alleged French Witch-Hunt

by 9

Alpine guiding company TrailAddiction collapsed into administration on the back of six-figure fines and claims for back taxes from the French authorities, insolvency documents reveal. The firm, which had traded since 2003, believes that it was the victim of a witch-hunt by the French state thanks to a high-profile dispute over the employment of UK-qualified guides.

TrailAddiction, as well as several other France-based guiding companies using UK staff, had faced a battle from 2013 onwards to obtain recognition for UK qualifications. Although ultimately successful, sole director Alistair Jamieson claims its challenge to the French position caused it to be targeted for increased regulatory oversight from 2016.

“It is the director’s opinion that as a result of the above highly visible and politically sensitive negotiations [regarding qualifications] the company came under administrative scrutiny from the French authorities on all aspects of its business,” according to information supplied by Jamieson as part of the administration.

No more of this (sad face)...
No more of this (sad face)…

This included weekly inspections, a full tax investigation, and a review of all employee contracts and working practices covering the previous five years.

“The increased administrative burden, legal fees and enforced changes in operational practices demanded by the French authorities, had a negative impact on operating profit and distracted from the ability of management to focus on day-to-day business,” says Jamieson’s statement.

Although its French operation carried out the guiding from its base near Bourg St Maurice in the Savoie region, staff were provided via “short-term secondment” from the UK operation, with social security payments made in the latter country. But under pressure from the French tax authorities, TrailAddiction in 2016 “re-contracted staff on French payroll”. Despite this, tax officials refused to recognise the “UK payroll status” of employees for the period from 2011-2016, and gave notice of their intention to levy a “six-figure penalty” on the firm.

After working with the UK tax authorities, TrailAddiction initially succeeded in reducing the fine by “over 100,000 Euros”, and, based on French legal advice, was confident of obtaining a further cut of a similar scale. As such, Jamieson was “confident there was no risk to TrailAddiction’s French operations in 2017”.

However, a parallel investigation found that the company had allocated too little turnover to its French operation, therefore underpaying tax and VAT. This resulted in a second six-figure claim from the French state.

No word yet on whether the Davos event will go ahead.
No word yet on whether the Davos event will go ahead.

Around half the outstanding amount had been paid off prior to the administration as part of a repayment plan, the report says. According to the company’s statement of affairs, TrailAddiction owes £297,013 in French employment taxes, plus a further £67,462 in French VAT and company tax, along with another £9,513 to the French state. Initial insolvency advice was sought in June 2016, but the director took the decision to trade through the summer season of that year in order to fulfil the firm’s existing commitments, the report says. But faced with uncertainty over the ability to reduce the fines, administrators Gerald Krasner (contact info here) and Gillian Sayburn of Begbies Traynor were appointed on 6 March 2017.

Two related companies – TrailAddiction Chalets and Trans Savoie – were placed into administration on the same date. The latter owes at least £25,379 to TrailAddiction, but the report notes that there have been “substantial inter-company transactions” since the last accounts were prepared for the period ended 31 October 2015. However, the report states that “the director was unable to confirm the movement on the intercompany positions in the subsequent period”.

Accounts for the 12 months ended 31 October 2015 – the most recent available – show that it owed £25,026 in tax and social security contributions, a sharp rise on a figure of £776 the previous year.

No update on the Enduro 2 at Davos has been received – so still no word on whether this will go ahead.


Comments (9)

    That’s a pity.
    As the region they are based in will miss out on income from English visitors, everyone loses.

    While they’ll be missed,it all sounds like they tried to be clever with their finances and got caught. Guides in France are on “short term secondment from the UK operation”? Aye right.

    Loads of other ‘British’ companies doing guiding, etc around there – don’t think the Brits will be abondoning the area just like that.

    Difference is, the other companies are French registered and live within the rules… just sayin’…

    I’m French… I have lived and worked in England for 22 years.. I pay taxes in England. It’s pretty simple.

    Witch hunt my @rse. Pay your bloody taxes!

    I’m English, I’ve lived and worked in France for 14 years and pay my taxes in France – as noted, it’s not that difficult to work out.
    The qualification thing is a different issue though…

    Income tax is inherently complicated and is often not black and white. If they operated their affairs one way under the belief that it’s okay then some years down the line are told no, you should have done it this way all along, pay up the difference accumulated since you started. Is that fair? I think there is some onus on the tax collecting authority to ensure businesses are clear on the approach to take right from the start?

    Having considered moving to France the biggest issue was social contributions, as much as I tried I had to face facts trying to be clever with the structure of my UK business was a waste of time, the rules were very clear and I didn’t want to risk breaking the rules as they have considerably more “tax people” than we do in the UK. Let alone dealing with employment law etc!

    I was interested in setting up a small guiding company, but the french take it quite seriously in the qualifications i.e. ski instructing, MTB etc. Is that such a bad thing? The opportunity was there to take their qualifications? The alternative for a guiding firm is to employ local people in their community.

    Maybe it was simply a case their business went from winging it a bit to a few years later to something they just let roll, enjoyed and didn’t seek proper advice on its structure, easily done and a shame for all involved.

    Really sad for them, holidayed with them a few years back, good times. I’m certainly no tax lawyer, but it sounds like they were doing what Google, Amazon, Starbucks etc have been getting away with for years. Much easier to go after the little guys. I can’t see the conversation with HMRC going well when they tried asking for a refund to give to the French equivalent. If they’d actually paid about the right amount of money, albeit to the wrong country, it seems pretty tough.

    The recently published press launch below may be the way forward to solve this long standing issue of mountain biker working in France

    Cycling Uk formerly CTC has joined forces with two leading mountain bike coaching organisation’s to boost the MTB guides industry across Europe.
    Mountain Bike Coaching UK (MBCUK), Cycling UK, and the Mountain-Bike Instructors Award Scheme (MIAS) are pleased to announce the launch of a new qualification in Mountain Bike Leadership, under the banner of the Association of British Mountainbike Guides (ABMG).
    Setting high standards for the entry criteria, this new accrediting body, which has officially joined the European Organisation of Mountain Bike Instructor-Guides (EO-MTBInG), supports mountain biking leaders in the UK by adding more credibility and authority to the leaders’ training and assessment process.
    The accreditation also aims to boost consumer confidence so that MTB riders have even greater peace of mind when booking a mountain biking trip in Europe.
    The newly-formed ABMG is an inclusive and open organisation which welcomes individuals and other organisation’s that meet the entry requirements set out in the group’s constitution.
    This is the link to the Cycling UK formerly CTC Press launch
    This is the link to the ABMG website

Leave a Reply