Written evidence submitted by Ian Williams
My name is Ian Williams, a broadcast journalist and one of many self-employed people “falling through the cracks” when it comes to government support during the Coronavirus pandemic. With no foreseeable end to the current lockdown, and with a prolonged period of uncertainty to follow, I am facing the prospect of almost zero income for what could be many months.
The government has launched two separate schemes to support and protect both self-employed and employed workers: the Self-employed Income Support Scheme and the Job Retention Scheme. Even though I am to all intents and purposes self-employed (i.e. I work for various companies on a casual day-to-day basis with no guarantee of employment), I cannot claim via the Self-employed Income Support Scheme because more than 50% of my annual revenue comes from PAYE work with the BBC. If I am not classed as self-employed then you might reasonably intuit that I must therefore be “employed” and eligible for furlough. Indeed, I am on the BBC’s payroll with the relevant monthly deductions made for income tax and national insurance. The corporation prefers to pay its freelancers in this way and up until now this has never proved to be a problem. However, I, along with hundreds of other BBC freelancers, am now set to be unfairly penalised because of this preference.
Up until Tuedsay 21 April, the BBC was still providing this advice in its FAQ relating to Covid-19:
“As a PAYE freelancer – does the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) apply to me?
“Potentially yes, and if applicable, you can agree to be ‘furloughed’ and receive 100% of your salary or up to £3000 (subject to deductions as required by law), whichever is the lesser.”
Unfortunately, I have now been informed that this advice only applies to PAYE freelancers working in the privately funded parts of the corporation while those working regularly in news and sports broadcasting are not eligible because it receives public funding.
Consequently, all of this means I am not eligible for ANY kind of government support because:
1. Even though I am effectively self-employed the government will not classify me as such because my main employer chooses to tax its freelance staff at source rather than pay gross (as my other employers do)
2. To compound matters, that main employer IS entitled to furlough PAYE staff (essentially classifying them as “employed”) – but only those working in certain departments. This seems iniquitous for those caught on the wrong side of the divide
All BBC departments have reduced output, cut rotas, merged teams, and seen staff cancel holidays – correctly so as it bids to limit the number of people leaving home. The number of available freelance shifts has dropped to almost zero as a result.
At the start of this crisis the Chancellor vowed to do “whatever it takes” to support people and claimed “the self-employed have not been forgotten”, but many gaps still exist in the government schemes. It was pleasing to see a degree of flexibility with the decision to extend the cut-off date for the furlough scheme. I now call on the Chancellor to show similar flexibility to support PAYE freelancers, both at the BBC and elsewhere, by adopting the solutions put forward by the Federation of Entertainment Unions. This could be done by creating a new Freelance Worker Income Support Scheme using PAYE data collected by the Treasury or, perhaps more simply, by allowing those who fall below the 50% self-employed threshold to qualify for the Self-employed Income Support Scheme by assessing all income, both PAYE and turnover. The BBC, along with other broadcasters, has already written to the government to give its backing to this second solution. If evidence were required, it should be simple enough to check the veracity of a BBC freelancer’s claim by asking them to submit a copy of their 2018/19 BBC P60. Such a change would allow the many PAYE freelancers currently without an income to follow the government guidance to stay at home to help save lives rather than desperately hunting for work wherever they can find it.
The BBC has rightly received much praise during the crisis for the important role it plays in terms of public service broadcasting. It would seem grossly unfair that while certain sections of the freelance community have been offered generous support by the government others – those who have chosen to make a living working for the BBC, an institution of vital national importance at this time – are left with nothing.
I am sure you will agree this situation is unjust and hope you will add your voice to those already calling for the suggested changes to be implemented.