INTERNATIONAL - The BBC has been accused of bullying and acting like a rogue employer yesterday, as its presenters said the corporation had ‘hung them out to dry’ to save £10 million a year.
MPs heard that one employee had considered suicide, others lived in fear of not being able to pay mortgages, and one DJ said she had worked for six months without being paid.
Radio and TV presenters told a parliamentary committee that the BBC pushed them into setting up personal service companies (PSCs) – or face losing their jobs.
As a result, they say, up to 200 presenters are being investigated by HMRC for alleged tax avoidance after declaring themselves self-employed. The PSCs meant presenters enjoyed some tax relief while the BBC is accused of saving vast sums in National Insurance contributions.
Yesterday the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee heard how the lives of workers who had been forced into creating PSCs had often been turned upside down.
Radio 6 DJ Liz Kershaw, 59, blasted the then ‘oligarchical’ management, adding: ‘I totally believe in the BBC, but I really feel strongly that they have in a roundabout way libelled us.’
She said she was furious that she and fellow presenters had been portrayed as tax-dodgers.
Miss Kershaw told the committee she took just six weeks off work after giving birth because she needed to bring money home – and was not entitled to maternity pay under her freelance status.
‘I can’t describe how hard that was, physically,’ she added. ‘To be separated from a baby for hours at work at that stage… the child suffers, the mother suffers.’ Radio 4’s Moneybox presenter Paul Lewis said he estimated the BBC had saved about £10?million a year by pushing workers in to the tax-efficient schemes.
He branded evidence before the committee, which included witness statements from presenters saying they had considered suicide, as the ‘dossier of doom’.
He said: ‘This is not a story of well-paid presenters trading through companies to avoid tax. This is the story of the BBC forcing, as your evidence has shown, hundreds of presenters to form companies and treat them as freelancers because that gave the BBC flexibility.’
Committee chairman Damian Collins said: ‘This is well below the standards you would expect of the BBC.
‘You might think we were talking about some rogue corporation with poor employment rights, rather than a national broadcaster.’
Labour MP Julie Elliott accused the corporation of ‘bullying’ when she heard about staff were pressured into using PSCs.
The damning indictment came the morning after the broadcaster published a strategy about how it would deal with employees facing vast tax bills. The BBC said the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution will conduct an independent process under which presenters will be able to ask for a review of their cases.
After the hearing, Mr Collins said: ‘That is a very BBC response – another review with no real certainty of where that will go.’
The BBC said: ‘We recognise there are issues to address. That’s why we have set up a fair and independent process.’
- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE