Mishcon takes lead for host of BBC presenters in tax battle over employment contracts

Mishcon de Reya is acting for a group of BBC presenters who are facing bills for thousands of pounds in backdated tax as a result of their freelance employment contracts with the broadcaster.

The high-profile dispute centres around the use of personal service company (PSC) contracts, which some BBC presenters and staff have alleged they were “pressured” into signing.

These agreements mean they were contracted as self-employed freelancers, rather than being directly on the corporation’s payroll, a move that reduced their tax exposure.

However, HM Revenue & Customs is now investigating about 100 current and former BBC presenters over allegations that they falsely declared themselves as self-employed.

Mishcon tax litigation head Leslie Allen, who is representing the presenters, told Legal Week: “We are acting for a large number of BBC presenters and have been in negotiations over the way they have been treated.

“They were put on personal services company contracts by the BBC and have been told that they are now liable for tax potentially going back years. The BBC is now having to look at whether it is liable for some of this tax, for example National Insurance. We are carrying on discussions towards hopefully resolving these issues between the individuals and the BBC.”

The BBC argues that its responsibility for the stewardship of public money means it ”cannot assume the tax liability of others in the absence of a compelling justification for doing so”, but that as a result of the concerns over the use of PSCs, it acknowledges it is now “appropriate to look again at these issues”.

The broadcaster has stated that it intends to set up a ”fair and independent process under the supervision of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution to determine the right approach in cases where on-air presenters believe the BBC bears some liability in relation to demands for employers’ National Insurance contributions”.

On Friday (27 April), Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Damian Collins MP wrote to BBC director-general Lord Hall to request information regarding the use of PSCs. The letter asked whether the decision to move presenters onto PSCs was made at board level, what factors led to the decision being made and whether the board was aware that presenters were working without pay after refusing to set up a PSC.

Earlier this year, former BBC TV presenter Christa Ackroyd lost a battle over her tax status when a tribunal ruled that she was an employee of the BBC, making her liable for more than £400,000 in backdated tax payments,

As well as acting on the tax dispute, Mishcon is also advising at least 10 senior female BBC employees following revelations about the broadcaster’s gender pay gap. Employment partner Jennifer Millins is advising the group, which includes former BBC News China editor Carrie Gracie.

Photo credit: Alexander Svensson