In a joint letter, the UK’s major broadcasters ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5 owner Viacom and union Pact have called on the government to ensure it will support television industry freelancers during the coronavirus crisis.
The UK government unveiled measures last week to support the nation’s freelance workers, claiming that 95% would be covered, following a similar move to cover the wages of furloughed employees during the crisis so that there won’t be widespread lay-offs. The news was largely met with a positive response, but there have been vocal concerns that some workers might slip through the support net.
Today, the broadcasters are calling on Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to make sure this doesn’t happen. They are proposing an amendment to the existing self employed assistance scheme that would see PAYE and tax records used to establish eligibility for freelancers who trade in a variety of ways.
The letter, which you can read in full below, has signatories including BBC director general Tony Hall, Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, and ITV CEO Carolyn McCall.
Dear Secretary of State
Assistance for Freelance workers paid by PAYE
Thank you for hosting the CEO round table for TV and radio earlier this week and for giving us the opportunity to feed perspectives from our sector into government.
We wanted put on record our gratitude for the swift and decisive action the government is taking on a number of fronts to try to mitigate as much of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic as possible.
The furloughing and the freelance schemes are particularly important for our organisations as they give us the best chance of restarting our activities at pace when the lockdown is relaxed, helping to maintain the UK’s world leading position in the creative industries.
However, as you know at the round table meeting a number of attendees raised the serious issue of how to ensure that freelancers who are paid through PAYE do not unintentionally fall through the cracks of these two assistance schemes.
This is a particular issue in our industry which, whilst not colossal in scale, is too big and too fragmented for any business to be able to deal with. As with the other worker schemes, only the government is realistically able to help this group and we think that there is a way that this could be done relatively easily without creating any new scheme. We set out the problem in more detail below together with what seems to us to be the most effective potential solution.
There is a category of TV workers who will not qualify for any of the current government assistance schemes. They are people who are freelancers but who have been paid continuously (or just occasionally) via PAYE and:
- Will not meet the furloughing requirements — for instance because they weren’t on the PAYE payroll on 28 February, or their contracts did not have long enough to run after 1 March.
- Will not qualify as self-employed as they aren’t making profits via the tax system which can be compensated (as they are paid in whole or part through PAYE).
- Will not qualify for the corporate support scheme as they aren’t trading through a limited company.
The issue is impossible for any one employer to track as this category of freelancers won’t necessarily always be paid through PAYE and most will have a number of different employers. By way of example, we know that ITV pays circa 400 freelancers through PAYE each month and Sky a little over 1000 but these are not always the same people each month and we do not have visibility of what those people we do pay through PAYE are doing or who they are working for when not engaged with us. Even when they are engaged with us they may sometimes be paid through PAYE and sometimes as sole traders, depending on the project and the terms of engagement.
Only HMRC has a complete record of PAYE and tax for any individual from all employments, via unique NI numbers. Accordingly, HMRC could therefore establish whether, and up to what level, these individuals might be entitled to some sort of furlough assistance.
In order for this to be possible, it would make sense to amend the self-employed assistance scheme rules so that those PAYE and tax records could be used to establish eligibility for the same assistance as other freelancers who trade in different ways.
This approach would have the following advantages:
- It would ensure equitable treatment between people in very similar circumstances but with technically different ways of being paid and goes with the grain of existing assistance programmes.
- It would overcome the problem that no single employer necessarily even has a full PAYE record for any freelancer or should be entirely responsible for that freelancer
- It would avoid any single engaging company having to cash flow furlough, effectively on behalf of all of those engaging companies in TV which might have engaged an individual.
- It radically reduces the risk of abuse by individuals submitting multiple claims through multiple engaging companies (which could be a risk under an engaging company led scheme).
Clearly in the current circumstances there is no time to be lost and we are keen to do everything we can to work with government and HMRC to try to implement this sort of solution to the problem. Our teams stand ready to deliver what assistance we can to help this important group of workers in our world leading creative economy and we propose to pick this up with senior officials in your department in the coming days. We look forward to working with the Government on this issue; we are copying the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP.
Carolyn McCall CEO, ITV
Tony Hall, Director-General, BBC
Stephen Van Rooyen CEO, Sky UK and Europe
Maria Kyriacou UK President, ViacomCBS / Channel 5
John McVay CEO, Pact
Alex Mahon CEO, Channel 4