Following concerns raised by Parliament and individuals employed by the BBC, the National Audit Office has investigated the nature of, and associated issues related to, individuals hired by the BBC on a freelance basis, particularly those hired through personal service companies (PSCs)1.
In its investigation, published today, the NAO has found that the BBC has taken steps to help affected individuals, however issues remain unresolved and a number of possible outcomes may have future financial implications for the BBC.
The BBC hires thousands of freelancers every year, covering a number of different roles both on and off-air, including actors, entertainers and off-air workers, such as camera operators. Between 2004 and 2013, the BBC developed policies for what contracting method could or should be used when hiring freelancers in on-air roles, resulting in some roles being contracted through PSCs. It based its decisions on whether roles were employed or self-employed for tax purposes on its understanding of HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) guidance and, for on-air presenters, of industry practice.
The government introduced legislation in the Finance Act 2000, commonly known as IR35, to counter concerns that some people were using PSCs to avoid paying the correct amount of tax. It sought to ensure that people who work in the same manner pay comparable income tax and national insurance, whether they are employed directly or work through a PSC.
Central to the application of IR35 is the assessment of an individual’s employment status for tax purposes. However, assessing employment status is complicated as there is no precise statutory test and instead each case must be assessed individually against a number of factors.
The Committee of Public Accounts first addressed the BBC’s use of PSCs in 2012 as part of a wider enquiry into off-payroll working across the public sector.
In April 2017, the government transferred responsibility for determining employment status for tax purposes of people hired through PSCs to the public bodies hiring them. Prior to this date, PSCs did this themselves and therefore bore the risk of incorrectly assessing employment status and paying the incorrect amount of tax.