Is the BBC the British Tax Avoidance Corporation?

BBC now in row over paying 3,000 people through personal service companies

The BBC has disclosed that around 3000 people on the Corporation’s books are paid through personal service companies – the same system used until banned by the Treasury by Ed Lester, the Student Loans Company chief, to avoid paying tax or national insurance at source.The full story is in Exaro News at It comes from a Freedom of Information request by David Mowat, the Conservative MP for Warrington,South and only covers part of the picture.
Altogether the BBC across the globe has 20,000 directly paid employees and 12,000 freelancers – 3,000 of them through personal service companies.
The figures are an underestimate since it does not include many of the BBC’s commercial companies and all of BBC’s talent – defined by them as ” people who appear in presenting or journalistic roles on our television, radio and online.”
So none of the high paid presenters will be in this breakdown nor will be people employed on many of the BBC’s commercial activities. Nor are people supplied through Reed Personnel who can choose to be paid through a personal service company, and BBC has decided to keep their numbers secret.
This means the figure must be much, much higher. A breakdown provided by the BBC – suggests that more than half the 3,000 are taking less than £26,000 a year, which suggests that they are genuine freelance. Another 1300 or so earn over £26,000 – 318 over £50,000 – and of these five earning over £150,000 and 31 over £100,000.
The BBC insist that none of them are permanent staff and like the government point out that none of them are being paid illegally.
A BBC spokeswoman said:”In the main they are hired to do specific jobs for a fixed period of time such as directing, editing and other craft skills. When a person is contracted in this way it is their responsibility to organise their tax arrangements directly with the HMRC. This is entirely in keeping with HMRC regulations and is standard practice across broadcasting and many other industries.”
However there are other questions to be answered. Why are the BBC not doing the same review as Whitehall in finding out whether all these contracts are genuine? David Mowat is right when says the BBC management should do this.
And why can’t we find out what the BBC Talent is paid – rather than the BBC sheltering behind an exemption through their Freedom of Information Act aimed to protect journalists; sources not disclose their pay – since it is paid by the licence payer.
Also rather disturbingly two prominent journos (one ex BBC)have told me the BBC tried to encourage them to be paid through personal service companies when they did not want to do it. Is this pressure from the BBC to avoid having to pay national insurance and encouraging possible tax avoidance. We should be told.

Buried in the Budget:Freelance company tax rules ” shake up ” on way

Almost entirely missed by the press coverage of the Budget this morning, George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced a radical review of  freelance  tax employment rules through what is known as IR 35.

Not mentioned in his speech – the changes were hidden away in the full Budget document. The full story of this change written by Alison Winward  and Frederika Whitehead is on the Exaro news website  at

For those worried by the changes to the IR 35 rules   the official Treasury document uses the dreaded word simplification – the same phrase used by the Chancellor to impose a ” Granny Tax ” – a  future loss of  income for 4.5 million pensioners  by freezing tax allowances for most of  those who have  incomes above the state pension. Like pensioners this could affect millions of people.

The full section in the Treasury  reads:

 ” Personal service companies and IR35

 The Government will introduce a package of measures to tackle avoidance through the use of personal service companies and to make the IR35 legislation easier to understand for those who are genuinely in business.

This will include: strengthening up specialist compliance teams to tackle avoidance of employment income; simplifying the way IR35 is administered;

and subject to consultation, requiring office holders/controlling persons who are integral to the running of an organisation to have PAYE and NICs deducted at source by the organisation by which they are engaged. (Finance Bill 2013)”

Basically Hmrc are giving a warning that the  wheeze that enabled Student Loans Company chief Ed Lester to hold one official position in Whitehall, will be banned everywhere. It will also effect local government, the NHS and now the private sector, as people won’t be able to claim it as freelance earnings through a  personal services company. They will have to go through PAYE and pay national insurance.

There is at least a year’s grace before this happens – as legislation is planned for next year’s finance bill – and implementation could be delayed until 2014.

In the meantime the small print announces a crackdown from Hmrc on freelances who use this method. The revenge of Danny Alexander, chief secretary of the Treasury, who missed the whole Ed Lester arrangement when he personally approved all high paid Whitehall staff, looks like being rather more widespread than people anticipated.