Thursday 22 August 2019

BBC must rebuild trust following tax arrangements with presenters, MPs say

The broadcaster has faced controversy over its arrangements with its freelancers, including its presenters.

The BBC has apologised to those affected (Nick Ansell/PA)
The BBC has apologised to those affected (Nick Ansell/PA)

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

The BBC has to “rebuild trust” following the “misery” caused to TV and radio presenters over its use of personal service companies, MPs have said.

The broadcaster has faced controversy over its arrangements with its freelancers, including its presenters.

Some have accused the BBC of forcing them to set up special tax vehicles to allow the corporation to avoid paying millions in national insurance contributions.

Many have been pursued by HMRC for unpaid tax bills, some running into thousands of pounds.

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has now said the situation “risked bringing the BBC into disrepute”.

Its approach has been muddled and chaotic, and its communication with those affected has been unacceptably poor MPs' report

Its report said “the BBC’s mishandling of its use of personal service companies has caused misery and hardship for those affected…”

“Its approach has been muddled and chaotic, and its communication with those affected has been unacceptably poor,” the committee said.

The BBC has apologised to those affected but its attempt to reach a settlement with HMRC for outstanding tax claims “is taking longer than expected”, it added.

“We cautiously welcome the BBC’s commitment to helping those affected, but admitting responsibility after the event is not sufficient without taking effective steps to resolve the situation.”

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said the “lack of clear accountability at senior level for the BBC’s policy on PSCs” was “particularly troubling”.

And she said: “Apologising is not enough. The BBC has committed to helping those affected.

“We expect to see evidence both that it has done so and that it is taking meaningful action to prevent such distressing problems arising in future.”

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Radio presenter Kirsty Lang previously spoke about her experience of PSCs (PA)

She said: “The BBC has serious work to do if it is to rebuild trust following what was a damagingly incoherent approach to hiring freelancers.”

Last year, the Rev Richard Coles hit out at the BBC over its tax arrangements.

The former Strictly Come Dancing star, who co-hosts BBC Radio 4 show Saturday Live, said that “forming PSCs (personal service companies) was forced upon us by the BBC, which must take responsibility for that.”

Writing in The Guardian, he said that he and his fellow BBC stars were not “lavishly paid luvvies moaning about having to pay tax” and he called on the broadcaster to be “fair”.

And Kirsty Lang, a presenter on Radio 4’s Front Row, said she gave up a staff post when asked by the BBC to form a PSC, despite fears about losing rights to sick pay.

The committee said it was “shocked” that the BBC was “unable to confirm whether its early PSC policy was discussed at an appropriately senior level”.

And it added: “We find it unacceptable that the BBC did not fully explain to individuals the impact its PSCs policy would have on them.”

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC has introduced a much simpler set of contracting arrangements to give more clarity and certainty.

“Everyone in the media industry agrees that the roll-out of the new employment test introduced by HMRC was rushed and problematic.

“We welcome the committee highlighting that the wider public sector has also struggled with this test, having been given considerably less time to implement than the private sector. Assessing an individual’s employment status is often complex, as the report also acknowledges.

“We fully understand and regret the stress this has caused presenters, we are supporting them and we recently set out how we will calculate our contribution to any historic outstanding amounts sought by HMRC to help resolve the matter as soon as possible.”

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