BBC to test employment status of on-air talent

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The BBC will introduce employment tests to assess whether on-air talent should be categorised as staff or self-employed.

The checks will be applied from 11 November for presenters in TV and news radio output, when their contracts are due for renewal. It will involve the BBC assessing the extent of contributors' creative input.

The launch of the test follows last year's Deloitte review, commissioned by the BBC Trust, which found the BBC policy for engaging on-air talent had been applied inconsistently, with some people categorised as self-employed doing similar work to those on a staff contract.

The review was published after a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report said too many employees, in the government and the BBC, made their own arrangements to pay tax and national insurance through the use of personal service companies (PSCs) instead of paying deductions at source, which could allow them to contribute less.

The PAC also said they were "shocked" to discover the BBC had about 25,000 off-payroll contracts, of which 13,000 were for individuals who regularly appeared on TV and radio. However the BBC told the PAC that short-term engagements were commonplace in the broadcast industry.

Talent pay

Published in November 2012, the BBC Trust review found "no evidence" that the corporation used personal service companies in order to aid tax avoidance and said there was no evidence the BBC had required individuals to move from staff employment to a PSC arrangement.

But the BBC admitted it wanted to address public concern that off-payroll contracts and PSCs were used to evade tax.

Newsreaders Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce are among the presenters currently paid through their own companies.

But BBC commercial director Bal Samra said: "This is not an active strategy to get talent pay down."

He added: "I sincerely hope we won't lose any talent and they appreciate the clarity we're bringing."

Darren Fell from the Freelance Advisor blog told Broadcast magazine: "The BBC appears to be arbitrarily cracking down on perceived avoidance where none exists. They themselves admit there is nothing wrong with the employment arrangements of these freelancers, but overzealous politicians appear to have backed them into a corner."

A BBC spokeswoman said the new employment test aimed to "ensure a clear and consistent approach to determining how we hire on-air television talent".

The BBC also said it would assess people on a case-by-case basis, and it could not say how many presenters would be affected.

Off-air talent is already being tested, with the BBC estimating that around 20% of its 16,000 production freelancers may become BBC employees.

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