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ContractorCalculator exclusive: How we exposed HMRC IR35 blitz on 100+ BBC presenters

HMRC has launched more than 100 IR35 enquiries into BBC broadcasters, as part of an industry-wide witch-hunt targeting the use of personal service companies (PSCs) – which threatens to spread into other sectors.

ContractorCalculator made the sensational discovery - since reported on by multiple national publications, including the FT, The Times, Telepgraph, Guardian, BBC and the Daily Mail - revealing the sheer magnitude of the taxman’s IR35 probe after details of Paya Ltd & Tim Willcox Ltd v Revenue & Customs emerged on Thursday evening.

Through a thorough examination of what first appeared to be a quarrel over the BBC’s right to provide evidence, we uncovered critical information that shows that PSC users in the broadcasting sector are well and truly under threat from the taxman.

Whatever industry you work in, if you’re afraid you may fall within IR35, your first step must be to read our guides on how to pass IR35 or take ContractorCalculator’s online IR35 test for clarity and peace of mind.

ContractorCalculator discovery sends stark warning out to broadcasters

Details of the tribunal published online suggested it was only concerned with a dispute over the BBC’s right to provide evidence. The Contractor Calculator team believed that there was more than meets the eye.

After digging a little deeper and examining BBC Head of Global Mobility and Employment Jennifer Henderson’s witness statement, we discovered that the taxman had opened enquiries into the affairs of more than 100 individuals engaged with the BBC, revealing the huge scale of HMRC’s operation.

How the story hit the headlines – timeline of events

Thursday 6th October

05:30pm: ContractorCalculator’s editorial team learns of publication of tribunal ruling Paya Ltd & Tim Willcox Ltd v Revenue & Customs.

06:00pm: Background research on appellants reveals that BBC presenter Joanna Gosling is the ex-wife of Craig Oliver, former aide to David Cameron from 2011-2016, during the time of his own crackdown on tax avoidance.

06:30pm: After examining witness statements from BBC representatives, the team discovers that 469 individuals engaged with the BBC had been considered for examination by HMRC, which had opened 100 enquiries by autumn 2015.

07:00pm: BBC statement claims that HMRC has indicated its intention to initiate IR35 proceedings in relation to presenters who are engaged by other broadcasting organisations – massively widening the scope of its crackdown.

Friday 7th October

10:00am: ContractorCalculator publishes news flash and press release to alert the wider press. Within hours our scoop is picked up by the Times, Independent and Sky News amongst others.

03:15pm: BBC press office issues statement to ContractorCalculator, confirming that in 2013 it adapted its employment status test to better comply with IR35.

ContractorCalculator expose makes national headlines

Our subsequent news article triggered a flurry of coverage from national broadcasters and newspapers. By Saturday morning, the entire mass media had latched onto our find, with coverage cropping up in (amongst numerous other publications):

The story made front page news the following day, with the Daily Mail choosing to lead with the headline ‘Taxman Probes 100 BBC Stars’ on the front of its Saturday edition.

Stay up-to-date with the latest IR35 developments

“It’s a fantastic scoop for ContractorCalculator. We’ve always worked hard to keep our fingers on the pulse when it comes to the latest IR35 developments,” commented ContractorCalculator CEO Dave Chaplin. “17 years-worth of watching and interpreting this tricky legislation have paid dividends.

“Whilst the national papers have chosen to focus on the sheer scale of the operation, we’re more interested in why the BBC is seeking to get involved in a case that won’t impact it from a tax perspective,” he added.

We will continue to keep close tabs on the case as it progresses, and will provide coverage of the ruling itself as well as commentary. To ensure you stay in the loop over one of the biggest IR35 stories to break since its inception, sign up to our newsletter now. We were first off the mark last time, and we will be there first for the next ruling.

Don’t get caught by IR35 – take our online test!

HMRC’s industry-wide probe is proof that you can’t afford to take any risks with your IR35 status. Whether you work in broadcasting or any other sector, you need to take special precautions to ensure you don’t wind up on the taxman’s radar.

If you’re worried that you might fall foul of the IR35 legislation, check out our comprehensive catalogue of expert contractor guides. Alternatively, you can use ContractorCalculator’s free online IR35 test – the most accurate online IR35 assessment tool available.

Updated: 24 February 2020

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