Shoot profits rise, so why do organisers remain gloomy?

More shoots made a profit last season but optimism among organisers has fallen, despite better cost control and plans to increase charges.

These are some of the main findings from Savills’ annual Shoot Benchmarking Survey, which canvasses more than 150 organisers on their costs and views.

Shoots in high-demand areas easily filled their days, and the revenue is set to rise. More than half of shoots (58%) were planning to increase charges for the current season, by an average of £1.83 a bird. However, some have found resistance to their pricing.

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In 2016-17, the average total cost was £33.92 a bird shot, while participants paid £35.20 a bird shot.

Reduced optimism has been driven by concern over avian flu risks, declining game meat sales and the possibility of higher bird import costs, post Brexit.

What does the survey cover?

  • 155 shoots in England, Scotland and Ireland surveyed
  • More than 3,300 days in the 2016-17 season
  • More than 1.6 million birds put down
  • Shoots collectively employ 250-plus full- or part-time staff
  • Collective turnover of more than £16m

In addition, rising public opposition, driven by campaign groups and the prospect of further costs incurred by the rating of shooting rights, have also depressed the outlook.

The results showed that 72% of shoots were planning to release the same number of birds for next season – 5% higher than a year ago.

The survey also reported that shoots were keeping a tighter rein on costs; total costs were 2% down on the previous year to £12.55 a bird put down and 9% below their peak of £13.76 in 2013.

That has seen more businesses in the black, with fewer making a loss on a bird shot basis. In 2013-14, 59% made a loss, reducing to 43% in 2016-2017. Although this is an improvement, Savills says it is still a cause for concern.

Staff costs account for a large share of shoot costs, with permanent staff costs rising. About 51% of shoots increased salaries by up to 2% in 2016-17 but the overall average rise was 2.5%. The average salary is £16,600 for a beat keeper, with 86% of packages including a house.

Pay increases were also seen for beaters and pickers-up, which account for the fourth-largest cost for shoots. Most organisers pay beaters £25-£35 a day and pickers-up £30-£45, with lunch included.

On average, rates have increased by 18% for beaters and 19% for pickers-up since 2011.

Despite the rise, cost a bird put down has not increased by the same proportion, suggesting fewer staff are being used or events are becoming larger and perhaps fewer in number, Savills says.

Shoot wages advice

Shoot operators paying daily rates to beaters and pickers-up should check that they are sticking to the rules on wage rates and tax regulations.

The rules are complicated, leading to confusion among operators, including farmers running private events, say land agent Strutt & Parker, law firm Michelmores and accountant Saffery Champness.

Guidance looks at lump-sum daily payments and the need for compliance with the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW). It also examines when shoots need to deduct tax and supply Real Time Information to HMRC.

“Many beaters and pickers-up do not view what they do as a job or employment, as they do it for pure enjoyment. However, the authorities may still class them as an employee,” says Rhodri Thomas, head of Strutt & Parker’s South West region.

Why optimism is reducing

  • Brexit – a concern if supply of eggs, chicks or poults is restricted – a high proportion are currently imported from other EU member states.
  • Game meat sales – several dealers have gone out of business, shoots need a sustainable market for meat
  • Rating of sporting rights – applicable in Scotland, this will be an added cost in shoot budgets
  • Opposition – shoots may attract more attention from anti-shoot activists

“Where this is the case, the rules on minimum wage apply unless it is possible to prove to HMRC that the arrangement between the beater and the shoot meets its definition of a very casual arrangement.”

All workers on a shoot must be paid either the NMW, for under 25s, or the NLW for people over 25.

Ben Sharples, partner with Michelmores, said that the term worker was likely to cover most beaters – in particular those operating on formal commercial shoots.

“The typical lump-sum daily payment that many beaters receive, plus benefits such as lunch and a brace of pheasants, could well be construed as an intention to create legal relations – particularly if beaters are expected to turn up to scheduled shoots on set days.”

Lunch and the option to take a brace of birds do not count as pay and cannot be used to reduce the amount that needs to be paid under wage laws, Mr Sharples added.

Shoots are also responsible for accounting to HMRC for PAYE and National Insurance Contributions for any permanent employees.

Liz Brierley, partner at accountant Saffery Champness, advises:

  • Every time an employee is paid, the shoot must tell HMRC how much tax and NI has been deducted using the on-line Real Time Information (RTI) system
  • Report all payments to HMRC within seven days (the exemption under RTI that allowed shoots to report payments to beaters monthly has been removed)
  • Shoots do not have to deduct tax and NI from workers’ pay if they employ them for two weeks or less as a casual worker
  • Pay is still taxable income and the worker must ensure that any tax due is paid
  • Shoots must keep records of all payments they make to workers for at least three years. As a minimum, a shoot should have a record of the name, date of birth, gender, NI number, address and how much it has paid each worker.

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