A group of BBC PAYE freelancers is arguing that the BBC has misinterpreted government rules on furloughing freelance staff.

The deadline for applications from employers for the next stage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is 10th June and a large number of BBC PAYE freelancers argue the corporation would be legally able to help them through the scheme despite the BBC arguing they are not allowed to.

A significant proportion of BBC PAYE freelancers earn over 50% of their annual income through the BBC payroll, along with other PAYE contracts elsewhere, and therefore do not qualify for the government’s Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

PAYE freelancers can access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) if their employer is willing to use it.  Currently the BBC is furloughing PAYE freelancers who work for its commercial arm, BBC Studios.  However, it is refusing to do the same for PAYE freelancers working for its public service arm because it says it has been “advised by government” that it cannot do so.

Government advice does state that it does not “expect…many” public sector organisations to use the CJRS it accepts there will be exceptions.

The BBC PAYE freelancer group says that despite requests from freelancers, campaigners and politicians, the BBC will not reveal the exact nature of this “advice” or where it came from ahead of the 10 June deadline for new applications to the extended phase of the CJRS.

Employment law expert Andrew Allen QC says the BBC is “not correct” in its interpretation of the CJRS guidance and “in my opinion these workers fall squarely within the category who can be furloughed both in the letter and spirit of the legislation”.

The BBC PAYE freelancer group argues that “Both the Chancellor and BBC Director-General have been asked directly to bring clarity to the situation.  As yet, replies have not been forthcoming.

“It is nothing short of a scandal that nearly three months after its introduction, and just days before the deadline for new applications, the situation regarding the BBC and furloughing is one characterised by confusion, mixed messages and institutional indifference.”

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘The BBC has set out the position on this several times. We are hugely sympathetic, and have taken direct action to support this group including honouring cancelled work until the end of May and setting up a hardship fund.’

Jon Creamer

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