BBC presenters tell of stress caused by controversial pay arrangements
The Corporation made a move to resolve the controversy on the eve of a parliamentary hearing.
A BBC local radio presenter has told MPs she tried to kill herself because of stress over the controversial arrangements under which she was employed.
The anonymous presenter was among an array of TV and radio stars who gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry that they were pressured into setting up personal service companies (PSCs) which later fell foul of the taxman, leading to massive bills for unpaid tax.
Senior MP Damian Collins, the chair of the House of Commons Culture Committee, said the BBC had fallen “well below” the standards expected in its treatment of staff and said he would be demanding answers from director general Lord Hall.
The BBC last night announced a new independent dispute resolution process which might lead to the Corporation paying a share of historic bills that in some cases run into five or six figures.
The announcement came a day before DJ Liz Kershaw, radio presenter Kirsty Lang and financial journalist Paul Lewis were due to give evidence to an inquiry by the House of Commons Culture Committee into the use of PSCs.
Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, the committee released a dossier of evidence from presenters who claim the BBC put pressure on them to be employed via a PSC, rather than as a member of staff, only for them to find themselves targeted by an HM Revenue & Customs clampdown on the arrangement.
And the committee published letters and emails from the BBC to on-air talent including Ms Kershaw, in which the Corporation made clear that it would offer long-term engagements only if their services were provided through a company or partnership.
One female radio presenter told the committee she was “forced” to set up a PSC in 2011 despite losing out financially as a result. When controversy over the arrangement blew up in 2017, she said she was forced to work on three-month contracts with “no sick pay, no holiday, no permanent contract” opposite a better-paid male staff member who enjoyed all these benefits.
Over many years I have been utterly let down, and mistreated by the corporation, treated like an alien species because I am a presenter Unnamed BBC presenter, in evidence to MPs
“I have been paid too little due to the use of incorrect tax codes, been subject to clawback, received no information for months on end as to what I was going to live off,” she said. “My mental health deterioration is absolutely linked to the increased stress of working for the BBC.
“I have always loved working for the BBC but the way they have behaved has reduced me to more than tears. It’s one of the factors that three days ago took me into my loft where I tried to hang myself.”
Another presenter said she was given “no alternative” to setting up a PSC if she wanted to continue to be employed after maternity leave, only for the HMRC to rule she was an employee of the BBC and hit her with a bill for tens of thousands of pounds in employer’s National Insurance Contributions.
“The way the BBC has employed me has meant I have lost out on a life-changing sum of money, but it is the emotional cost which is more concerning,” she said.
“Life-altering levels of stress” had affected her family, health and well-being, she said, adding: “Over many years I have been utterly let down, and mistreated by the corporation, treated like an alien species because I am a presenter. I am concerned that it has done irreparable damage to me.”
National TV and radio presenter Samira Ahmed said she felt “hugely bullied” over her employment status. BBC Radio Oxford presenter Charles Nove told the committee he was “constantly worried that I may face homelessness” because of the “unholy mess” around his pay.
Another unnamed presenter said: “My physical and mental health has suffered and the quality of life with my young family has been impacted. In the darkest of days and the spectre of retrospective action from HMRC hanging over me daily, I contemplated taking my own life.”
Others spoke of “constant anxiety”, “serious physical and mental illness” and “debilitating” stress.
Committee chair Damian Collins said the accounts were “highly disturbing”.
“By allegedly being coerced into these contracts these individuals may
have been denied employment rights, and some face liability for huge tax bills,” he said.
“This evidence indicates that the BBC is falling well below the standards we would expect in terms of how it treats its staff.”
The BBC announced on Monday that the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) will conduct an independent process under which presenters will be able to ask for a review of their cases.
The process will consider whether it is “appropriate or reasonable” for the BBC to make a contribution towards historic demands for employer’s National Insurance.
The Corporation said in a statement that it had “always tried to balance our responsibilities to presenters with our responsibility to spend the licence fee appropriately”.
And it added: “The BBC is aware that there is a very high hurdle where public money is concerned and the whole purpose of the work is to inform and advise, so we cannot prejudge the outcome.
“The process will only consider whether the BBC should contribute towards demands for employer’s National Insurance Contributions, not demands for other taxes which individuals are liable for.”