Three BBC newsreaders who collectively owe nearly £1m in unpaid taxes have blamed the debt on corporation bosses who pushed them to set up personal service companies or face losing their jobs.
Joanna Gosling, David Eades and Tim Willcox made the joint claim in evidence submitted to a tax tribunal in the High Court on Monday.
They said the BBC forced them off the payroll in 2003/4 and “pressured” them to set up the personal service companies (PSCs) – taking them off the corporation’s payroll – “if [they] wanted to continue working with the BBC”, according to the Financial Times.
HMRC is currently investigating claims more than 100 BBC presenters have not paid the proper amount of tax.
“These appeals are but the first in a potentially long line of appeals,” Georgia Hicks, representing the three presenters, told the tribunal.
“The presenters are all well-known public figures who are conscious that their reputations are at stake.”
She added: “Despite previously having been treated as self-employed the BBC pressured the presenters into using the PSCs in 2003-04.
“Before 2003, journalists and news presenters had always been engaged by the BBC on a freelance self-employed basis. At some point around 2003 this changed.
“The BBC insisted that if the presenters wanted to continue working with the BBC as presenters then [the PSCs] must be set up.”
A BBC spokesperson said it was the “responsibility of individuals to ensure they pay the right tax”.
They added that an independent report by Deloitte in 2012 found “no evidence to suggest that the BBC advocated the use of personal service companies as a means of facilitating tax avoidance”.
The BBC adopted a new employment status test for its journalists and presenters in 2013.
HMRC told the FT: “We don’t comment on identifiable individuals. Employment status for tax purposes is never a matter of personal choice and is always dictated by the specific facts.
“When the employment relationship does not accurately reflect the underlying reality of the relationship, the wrong tax is paid then we intervene to ensure the rules apply as parliament intended.”