An HMRC spokesperson said employment status was not a matter of personal choice but was dictated by specific facts. Photograph: Alamy
About 100 current and former BBC presenters, and stars from other broadcasters, are being investigated by HMRC over claims of tax avoidance.
The inquiries centre on allegations that the presenters falsely declared themselves self-employed to minimise their tax and national insurance bills.
The revelation emerged in a BBC submission to a tax tribunal considering the case of the BBC presenters Joanna Gosling and Tim Willcox. They are appealing against an HMRC ruling that they did not pay enough tax while claiming not to be employed directly by the BBC.
“HMRC have indicated to the BBC that there are around 100 additional cases under consideration involving current or former BBC presenters,” the broadcaster said.
According to court documents, the BBC said it understood HMRC also intended to look into the affairs of “presenters who are engaged by other broadcasting organisations”.
It said: “The appeals are therefore extremely important not only to the individuals in question, but also to the BBC and to the broadcasting industry as a whole.”
The investigators are looking into whether “IR35” rules, which govern the tax paid by those who work for clients through an intermediary, have been followed.
“The appeals are likely to be the first cases to test the freelance model in the broadcasting industry against the IR35 legislation,” said Jennifer Henderson, the BBC’s head of global mobility and employment tax, in the broadcaster’s submission.
The hearing before the first tier tax tribunal at the royal courts of justice took place in July and was first reported by the Telegraph on Friday.
The BBC stressed that the case would touch upon the whole broadcasting industry, saying that the practice of paying presenters through personal service companies was standard.
“As the judgement says, this is an industry-wide issue and affects those who have been engaged in this way for a number of different organisations,” a spokesperson said.
In 2012, a report from Deloitte found that the BBC had offered presenters the option of signing staff contracts or using personal service companies, but had not advocated one over the other.
The BBC changed its policy that year after it was criticised for letting presenters be paid through service companies.
“It is up to individuals to ensure they pay the right tax and, since 2013, the BBC has adopted a new employment status test that provides a clear and consistent approach to the employment status of journalists and presenters,” the BBC’s spokesperson said. Joanna Gosling and Tim Wilcox declined to comment.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Employment status is never a matter of personal choice and is always dictated by the specific facts. When the employment relationship does not accurately reflect the underlying reality of the relationship, the wrong tax is paid then we intervene to ensure the rules apply as parliament intended.
“While there can be many legitimate business reasons for workers being employed through their own companies, there are rules in place enabling HMRC to make sure people who provide their services in this way pay the right tax and national insurance.”