The BBC Pulled A Freelance Stunt, And It Cost Freelancers Big Time

It’s one thing when you choose to be a freelancer. It’s a different deal when your employer pushes you to freelance and you get slapped with a big tax bill. And that’s the charge against the BBC.

According to reports, the BCC pressured members of the staff to form personal service companies, which made them freelancers.

Doing this meant the BBC didn’t have to pay sick time, maternity leave, pensions, or any of those good ole’ perks you sometimes get for being an employee.

It also meant those staffer-turned-freelancers received hefty tax bills. One presenter reportedly tried to kill herself because the taxes were racking up so high.

Parliament called members of BBC’s management to testify about this practice.

The outgoing deputy general, Anne Burford, admitted that the company saved between £2 or £3 million ($2.6 – $3.9 million) on national insurance contributions but she claims the motive wasn’t to save on taxes.

BBC director general Lord Tony Hall admitted staff members were given no choice but to make the switch to the freelance arrangement but he also denied that it was to reduce the company’s taxes.

“It’s not about reducing a tax bill, it is about being absolutely clear of the employment status, for tax purposes, of our staff,” because the BBC has always had a culture of freelance working, he testified.

Regardless of the motive, the outcome was the company saved and the freelancers got burned.

And although Lord Hall said, “We’re saying that we’ve accepted responsibility. That’s full responsibility,” the BBC’s official position is Not Guilty.

The BBC has stood by a Deloitte report which said there was: “No evidence of any pressure to move staff to PSC arrangements,” reported Halstead Gazette.

The Question of Personal Responsibility

Of course, what the BBC did was probably shiesty as fuck. But in a business-minded sort of way. We quickly forget that companies are supposed to think about their money.

Individuals are too.

Which raises the question: What about these workers-turned-freelancers? Do they bear any blame for their situation?

Some members of Britain’s parliament took the position that these people were presented “an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

Buford and Lord Hall both said they would “accept” the position that some presenters were forced to accept a PSC against their will because they wanted to carry on working for the BBC.

One presenter said she was told not to come back from maternity leave unless it was under a freelance agreement. But according to the testimony, BBC management’s primary tactic was to sell people on the idea that the change would provide a chance to become “a rising star at the BBC.”

I would really love to hear that pitch because that doesn’t even sound like it makes any sense.

These people were offered a deal, and it was a bad one for them. But I think they bear responsibility for their outcome.

At best these staffers were being opportunists, and at worst, they didn’t do their due diligence.

As creative professionals, whether you’re an employee or freelancer, you have the responsibility of thinking things through for yourself, to make sure that the terms you accept are favorable to you.

Also Read: Why Freelancers Need to Pay Attention to Minimum Wage

According to the reports, some of the BBC’s top talent got caught up in this situation. These are seasoned professionals. Where was their business sense?

I mean, red flags didn’t go up? It didn’t seem odd that a company suddenly wanted to change how they were doing business? These staffers didn’t dig into the financial impact of the decision they were making? They just let the company do the thinking for them?

That why I constantly stress that creative professionals need to pay attention to the finances.

Don’t get blinded by big names, big numbers or fancy contracts. And for God sake don’t fall for tricks based on promises of “chance” and “opportunity.”

I’m curious to hear what you think. Let me know in the comment section.