BBC presenters appealing a huge tax bill said the broadcaster put them on an ‘elegant form of zero hours contracts’, a court heard.
HMRC claims more than 100 BBC staff owe them more in tax and is claiming £920,000 from newsreaders Joanna Gosling, David Eades and Tim Willcox at the High Court.
In a test case, the household name broadcasters are arguing they were ‘pushed’ into setting up personal service companies (PSCs) so the BBC could avoid paying National Insurance contributions.
Joanna Gosling, pictured, is one of three BBC newsreaders challenging an HMRC tax bill in a test case at the High Court
The HMRC is claiming £920,000 extra tax from Ms Gosling, David Eades and Tim Willcox, pictured presenting with Emily Maitlis, but the journalists say the BBC had them on contracts that essentially treated them as freelancers
According to the Telegraph, Jonathan Peacock QC, acting for the presenters, told the court they should be exempt from the tax bill because they were treated as freelancers and not staff.
He said: ‘They were pushed by the BBC into contracting through personal service companies. The risk does not appear to have been explained to them.
‘They were henceforth treated as freelancers and not as staff so they got none of the benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay, maternity leave, insurance or pension.’
He told the court their contracts were essentially ‘no work, no pay’ and added Ms Gosling took unpaid maternity leave when pregnant with both her first and second children because her contract was ‘suspended’ by the broadcaster.
The BBC News Channel presenter, who was married to David Cameron’s former communications chief Sir Craig Oliver from 1996 to 2014, was told the broadcaster ‘would decide if and when it would have her back’.
The court heard Ms Gosling, who has been with the broadcaster since 1999, was accidentally copied into an internal email which ‘put pressure on her’ to set up a PSC and said she would be given a job as producer rather than presenter at a lower fee if she refused.
Meanwhile Mr Peacock told the court the BBC would not provide insurance for Mr Willcox when he reported from disaster zones, with the journalist covering major stories including the 2011 Japanese tsunami and the Chilean mining accident in 2010.
Mr Peacock said: ‘If you are caught in a typhoon and you are injured you may hope the BBC send you a helicopter, but they have no obligation to do so.’
Lawyers for the presenters, including Mr Eades, pictured, said they were pushed into ‘no work, no pay’ deals
Mr Willcox, regularly seen on BBC World News, previously worked for ITN and presented live from New York during the 9/11 terrorist attack while he has also produced a number of documentaries on Princess Diana.
Mr Eades has been with the BBC for decades and was its Channel Tunnel correspondent while it was being constructed. He has also presented The World Today programme.
The lawyer said the presenters, who have paid £609,000 of the £920,000 bill, were contracted for a minimum number of days per year but were unable to work for other employers because the BBC had ‘first call’ on them.
Earlier this year a group of 170 BBC presenters accused the corporation of forcing them to set up special tax vehicles to allow it to avoid paying millions in National Insurance contributions.
In an open letter, representatives for the group accused the BBC of lying when it denied asking its staff to set up personal service companies (PSCs).
They said they were told they would no longer work for the company if they refused to set up a PSC.
The hearing continues.
AT A GLANCE: THE BBC STAFF FIGHTING THE TAX BILL
Joanna Gosling, David Eades and Tim Willcox are leading a charge by BBC staff against tax bills being pursued by HMRC.
All have been at the corporation for several years and have become household names as presenters and correspondents.
Ms Gosling joined the BBC in 1999 following spells in radio and working for Sky News.
She initially worked overnight shifts on BBC News 24, including as an anchor during the 9/11 terror attack coverage in New York.
Ms Gosling joined the BBC in 1999 and the court heard she ‘had to take unpaid maternity leave’ when pregnant
Ms Gosling later moved to evening slots before taking the evening shift on the BBC News Channel from 2007 to 2013, and currently presents daytime slots.
She has previously filled in on BBC Breakfast and has served as Friday presenter on the Victoria Derbyshire Programme on BBC2.
Ms Gosling was married to David Cameron’s former spin doctor Sir Craig Oliver between 1996 and 2014 and has three children with him.
Mr Eades has worked for the BBC in a variety of roles, having been with the broadcaster for decades.
He was Channel Tunnel correspondent during its construction in the early 1990s and has also served as an Ireland and European correspondent.
Mr Eades has worked for the BBC for decades and presented coverage of the construction of the Channel Tunnel
Mr Eades previously presented The World Today segment on the BBC World Service and The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4.
He also runs his own company Allday Media which produces sports and conference events.
Mr Willcox is a former ITN arts correspondent who joined the news team shortly before the 9/11 attacks
Mr Willcox is a familiar face on both the BBC and ITV, having previously worked for ITN for many years, including during the 9/11 coverage.
After joining the BBC he became an anchor on the news channel and presented bulletins on BBC One.
More recently he has also become well known for his work in the field, covering natural disasters such as the 2011 Japanese tsunami and high profile accidents including the 2010 Chilean mining crisis where 33 men were trapped underground for 69 days.
Mr Willcox has also produced a number of special features and documentaries on Princess Diana for the BBC as well as Channel 4 and Channel Five.