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Freshfields acts for the BBC in battle over presenters tax payments

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has advised the BBC ahead of an investigation into the employment status and tax avoidance claims against 100 current and former employees.

The BBC sought advice from the Magic Circle firm in the build up to a tax tribunal hearing in July between HMRC and newsreaders Tim Willcox and Joanna Gosling.

Willcox and Gosling are appealing against an HMRC judgment which said the pair failed to pay enough tax as they claimed they were not employed by the broadcaster, but were instead working for their own personal service companies.

The BBC litigation department instructed Michael Furness QC of Wilberforce Chambers and Hui Ling McCarthy of 11 New Square for the broadcaster’s application to provide evidence to the first-tier tax tribunal. The broadcaster’s litigation team is headed by Nick Wilcox who joined from RPC in 2014 following the departure of Nadia Banno to Baker & McKenzie.

Willcox and Gosling were advised by 11 New Square silk Jonathan Peacock QC with Marika Lemos and Georgina Hicks of Devereux Chambers, instructed by tax consultancy David Kirk & Co.

HMRC general counsel Gill Aitkin instructed Fountain Court Chamber’s Adam Tolley QC and Devereux Chambers’ Christopher Stone. HMRC solicitor Katherine Pleming gave evidence to the tribunal.

The case is important as it regards the employment status of many newsreaders, presenters and journalists, many of whom worked on freelance or self-employed contracts.

The BBC changed its employment rules in 2013 to provide a clear test to the employment status of journalists. HMRC first began inquiring into 23 cases last May, but by autumn 2015 it had increased this investigation to 100 individuals.

In tribunal documents the BBC’s evidence said: ‘HMRC have indicated to the BBC that there are around 100 additional cases under consideration involving current or former BBC presenters.’

Freshfields has been advising on the case since 2015, writing to HMRC stating: ‘The BBC continues to be willing to participate in the proceedings provided it can do so on an impartial basis and in a way which appropriately protects its own interests and those of its staff and on-air talent.’

Tribunal judge Anne Redston ruled against the BBC’s appeal to submit its own evidence.

Freshfields refused to comment on the case.

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘As the judgment says this is an industry wide issue and affects those who have been engaged in this way for a number of different organisations. The exact number of cases that will be taken forward will be determined by HMRC.’

The BBC added that the decision related to tax issues before 2013.