BBC presenter reveals she tried to kill herself over corporation's handling of her tax affairs

Steven Swinford
The BBC is accused of causing huge stress to presenters over their tax affairs - PA

BBC presenters attempted suicide and suffered “irreparable damage” because of the corporation’s “horrific” handling of their tax affairs.

The corporation has been accused by 21 workers, including prominent television and radio presenters, of forcing them to set up personal service companies or risk losing their jobs.

Many of them have since been pursued by HMRC over tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid tax, leading to significant “mental deterioration”.

One of the presenters said that it had been a factor in a recent suicide attempt, while another said that in their “darkest hours” they had considered taking their own life.

Another BBC worker accused the corporation of a “brazen attempt” to minimise its own tax bill by forcing presenters onto personal service contracts.

The BBC’s statement is in parts simply untrue and is misleading in others. The BBC did in effect force many presenters, both staff and freelance, into setting up PSCs. Presenters were told that if they did not form a PSC, the BBC would no longer give them any work. Many of them did not want to set up a PSC but felt they had no choice. The BBC paid them through their company for many years

From the letter on behalf of 170 BBC stars

The presenters submitted evidence to the culture select committee ahead of a hearing on Tuesday, in which four BBC presenters will criticise the corporation.

The committee has also published damning correspondence with presenters from the corporation which made clear they risk losing their jobs if they fail to set up personal service companies.

One member of staff was told in 2012 that there was “no wiggle room” over setting up a personal service contract, while another was told the corporation would “only engage” presenters if they set up personal services companies.

Damian Collins, at Tory MP and chairman of the select committee, said: “The evidence presented gives a distressing insight into the effect the protracted discussions on pay have had on staff and their families. Some have faced working without contracts and pay for extended periods, causing untold stress and financial insecurity.”

A tax tribunal found against former BBC presenter Christa Ackroyd meaning she could owe £419,000 in tax - and now other stars fear HMRC could come after them

One female radio presenter said she was forced to set up a personal service company in 2011 and told that if she failed to do so she would lose her job.

She said: “I’m grateful to do a job I love. 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 3 days ago took me into my loft where I tried to hang myself.” Another anonymous presenter said:

“In the darkest of days and the spectre of retrospective action from HMRC hanging over me daily, I contemplated taking my own life.”

A female presenter of a flagship BBC show told how she has how she has paid tens of thousands in national insurance contributions but received no benefits, holiday pay, sick pay or maternity pay.

She said: “Over many years I have been utterly let down, and mistreated by the corporation, treated like an alien species because I am a presenter. I am concerned that it has done irreparable damage to me.”

Charles Nove, a newsreader at BBC Radio Oxford, said he fears that he will be made homeless because the corporation is seeking to recoup tax and national insurance on his earnings.

Joanna Gosling, the BBC newsreader, is preparing to go to a tribunal over her tax affairs

Samira Ahmed, a presenter of the BBC’s Newswatch, said she was told by the corporation in March 2012 that she had to be paid using a personal service company.

In October 2016 she said that the corporation subsequently tried to make her go on contract, which would see her face a significant cut in her salary. 

She said: “I felt hugely bullied… It got to the stage that my boss was ringing me on the phone saying, ‘If you don’t sign in the next few minutes I’m going to have to confirm another presenter for the show next week’.”

One BBC freelancer who is expecting a baby said: “The stress of the situation has been enormous, and taken up a huge amount of time, effort and worry throughout my pregnancy.”

The committee will today hear evidence from Liz Kershaw, a presenter on Radio 6 Music, Kirsty Lang, who presents Front Row on Radio 4, Paul Lewis, who presents Money Box, and Stuart Linnell of Radio Northampton.

The corporation, however, is facing criticism for declining an invitation to appear before the committee. It instead announced a review which could see it make a contribution to the historic bills of some presenters.

It said in a statement submitted to the culture select committee: “We’ve always tried to balance our responsibilities to presenters with our responsibility to spend the licence fee appropriately.”