A BBC employee is said to have tried to commit suicide after Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) cracked down on personal service companies (PSCs).
According to the Daily Mail, the stress of court action over unpaid tax led to the suicide attempt.
An anonymous statement which will be used as evidence presented to MPs and seen by the paper read: ‘I have always loved working for the BBC but the way they have behaved has reduced me to more than tears. It’s one of the factors that three days ago took me into my loft where I tried to hang myself.’
HMRC has become increasingly concerned that PSCs, used by the likes of IT contractors and consultants along with journalists, have become vehicles to avoid paying personal tax and national insurance.
In the 2017 Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond indicated he was targeting ‘disguised employment’ within the private sector, which could net the government around £1 billion in unpaid taxes. The potential loophole was initially identified by previous chancellor George Osborne in his Budget of the previous year.
Earlier this year it emerged that former BBC presenter Christa Ackroyd was facing a tax bill of almost £420,000 after HMRC won a landmark battle against PSCs.
It is said around 200 BBC presenters are being probed by HMRC for alleged tax avoidance through PSCs. High profile presenters who used these structures include Fiona Bruce and Jeremy Paxman, although there is no evidence they are among those being investigated by the tax office.
The BBC has denied it actively encouraged staff use PSCs. However according to the Daily Mail, evidence handed to MPs set to be revealed later today will suggest otherwise. This includes a claim by Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed who said the BBC was ‘insistent’ she worked through a PSC.
Meanwhile BBC radio present Charles Nove is reported to have said he was worried about becoming homeless if he had to repay tax.
Nove told the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee: ‘I’m now constantly worried that I may face homelessness, should the BBC insist of pushing the recovery of tax that they unilaterally decided to pay on my behalf.’
Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone, described the evidence as ‘highly disturbing’.
The BBC intends to set up a ‘fair and independent’ process through the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, in a bid to resolve the row.
Tax lawyer Miles Dean, managing partner of Milestone International Tax, said the BBC needs to take a good look after itself if it encouraged employees to use PSCs.
'If the presenters in question were really coerced into forming personal service companies, then the BBC needs to take a long hard look at itself and its advisers. They should also notify their insurers for presumably giving advice that such arrangements were acceptable,' Dean said.
'I doubt the BBC actually forced workers to form personal service companies. But if this was in fact the case, it was incumbent on the presenter to seek third party advice and retain such amounts to cover the relevant income tax and National Insurance, on the assumption HMRC would come knocking.'