BBC makes 'hardship payments' to IR35-hit presenters

The BBC is beginning to bow to pressure that it should take some responsibility for the IR35 tax bills of its presenters.

Speaking to MPs, BBC deputy director Anne Bullford admitted that ‘hardship payments’ have now been paid to 15 presenters who each received tax bills over their IR35 status.

“We’ve helped some people with temporary cashflow,” she told the Public Accounts Committee, referring to BBC radio and TV hosts in “hardship” due to the HMRC demands.

“We’re talking about comparatively modest sums of money in the overall scheme of things but important to the individuals. We think it is the right thing to do.”

Bullford also said that she could not rule out the BBC paying presenters’ “back-taxes”-- the retrospective demands under IR35 they have received after the BBC forced them into PSCs.  

“Those are difficult questions,” she told the PAC, in answer to whether there are “some circumstances where the BBC should take some responsibility.”

To address them, the BBC said it had set up an “independent process to determine the right approach where presenters believe the BBC bears some liability.”

But the BBC doesn’t seem to believe it is the only public sector outfit potentially at fault. “Because of the timing of the introduction of the new test [CEST], there [was] very little notice of this”.

Bullford, continuing to point the finger at HMRC added: “Se we weren’t in a position to reassess people until quite far into the current financial year.”

She agreed with a suggestion from an MP that the IR35 tax demands from the Revenue had been “devastating” for some of the BBC’s presenters.

Lord Hall, BBC director-general, backed her accusations by also finding fault with CEST, but on other grounds. Asked if this was an “edifying period” in BBC history, he countered:

“The fact that we’ve been trying to apply one set of rules from HMRC which then are withdrawn and we have another set of rules in the space of a year, is really not great.”

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee replied: “You’re saying it’s their fault” referring to HMRC.

Lord Hall said: “HMRC have said the test which they were asking us to apply is not fit for purpose so we need to have yet another test.

“This has caused a good deal of confusion for individuals – a great deal of anger among the people who are our frontline presenters, mainly in radio and in news.”

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