The UK’s major broadcasters and producers have together called on the Culture Secretary to take steps to ensure television industry freelancers who work on PAYE contracts will be eligible to qualify for government support schemes during the current crisis.

In a joint letter, ITV, BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Viacom and Pact have today written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport pointing out the risk of freelancers paid through PAYE “unintentionally falling through the cracks” of the furloughing and freelance schemes announced last week by the Chancellor.

The letter set out serious concerns about this issue, which is of particular relevance to the television industry, explaining the circumstances in which “a category of freelancers will not qualify for any of the current government assistance schemes”.

It adds that, in part because of the fragmentation of engagement and lack of information held by any one organisation “only the government is realistically able to help this group,” and puts forward  a proposal for an amendment to the self employed assistance scheme, which the broadcasters believe would resolve the issue without the need for the creation of a new scheme.

The broadcasters have offered their support to work with the Government on this solution to the issue.

It adds: “Our teams stand ready to deliver what assistance we can to help this important group of workers in our world leading creative economy.”
The letter has been sent today and signed by Tony Hall, Carolyn McCall, Alex Mahon, Stephen Van Rooyen, Maria Kyriacou and John McVay .

The letter in full:

3 April 2020

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.

The problem

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.

The Solution

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).

Next Steps

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.

Yours sincerely

Carolyn McCall
CEO, ITV CEO

Tony Hall
Director-General, BBC

Stephen Van Rooyen
CEO, Sky UK and Europe

Maria Kyriacou
UK President,
ViacomCBS / Channel 5

John McVay
CEO, Pact

Staff Reporter