Hundreds of regular BBC freelance workers with jobs on prominent shows such as Match of the Day are pleading with the government for emergency financial support after they fell through the cracks between job support schemes.
Some of them have worked on long-term freelance contracts for the corporation for many years but have been left unable to pay their rent or reliant on handouts because they have been told they cannot be furloughed. At the same time they are also not eligible for the government’s self-employment support scheme because they receive the majority of their income from the BBC.
They have now written to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to ask him to extend the self-employed income support scheme to cover people in their situation, who have long records of paying taxes but have been “ignored” since the start of the crisis.
“We ask that you justify why we should not benefit from the same protections and support that other taxpayers have rightly received from the government through this unprecedented crisis,” they said.
One director who signed the letter said it had been his life’s aim to work for the BBC and as a regular freelancer he had agreed to be paid through the PAYE system at the request of the corporation’s bosses.
He said: “I now find myself struggling to make ends meet financially. I am in fact entitled to nothing. My hope, all along, was that the BBC would simply furlough me and I would carry on my work and duties with the pride and passion I previously showed. However, I now find myself spending the last remainders of my life savings just to pay rent, put food on the table and effectively survive.”
Other long-term freelance staff – who work on programmes across the schedule, from Match of the Day to BBC local news bulletins and Radio 4 programmes – said they had to give up the leases on their homes and move back in with parents because of the lack of financial support. Many say they feel they will have to leave the media industry as a result.
One assistant producer, who had worked for the BBC since 1990 before switching to a freelance contract, said she had lost her main income since the start of the crisis. She said: “I’m a taxpayer and have four years of self-employed tax returns submitted to HMRC. I’m a single mum to an autistic boy, with no savings and my family aren’t in a position to help me out. Because I haven’t received any support, I was struggling to buy groceries for me and my son whilst I was awaiting my first universal credit payment.”
Although the lack of support for freelance workers is a problem for tens of thousands of people across the media industry, with the union BECTU and other broadcasters making representations to the government, the situation at the BBC is exacerbated by its status as a public broadcaster.
The corporation says it has received advice from the government that its public service operations are not eligible for the job guarantee scheme, leaving freelancers who receive the majority of their income from the corporation falling between two stools.
In a letter to the freelancers’ group, the BBC director general, Tony Hall, said he sympathised with their plight but there was little that the corporation could do, beyond honouring existing freelance bookings until the end of May and pressing the government to change the rules. The corporation is also facing the need to make substantial financial cuts as a result of the pandemic, with regular freelancers fearing they will be the first to be cut.
“We are all acutely aware how hard this is for everyone involved,” said Hall.