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Performers are under attack from an ‘out of control’ HMRC, Equity leader warns

Equity general secretary Christine Payne at the union's 2019 annual representative conference. Photo: Phil Adams
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HMRC and Equity are locked in a bitter dispute over the tax status of actors, with the union warning that the government body is “on the verge of being out of control”.

Equity general secretary Christine Payne used her address to delegates at this year’s annual representative conference to accuse HMRC of a “ruthless grab for revenue”, driven by forces she said “do not seem to understand or appreciate our sector”.

She described the union as being under attack by HMRC, in relation to a recent test case involving actor Robert Glenister, and forthcoming tax guidance for actors and performers.

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The general secretary claimed that HMRC was launching investigations into Equity members, alleging they were employees rather than self-employed, which was resulting in demands for “huge sums of tax”.

Payne said that Equity had been working with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre to agree new tax guidance with HMRC, which last year looked close to being signed off.

However, she said a final draft received by the union in April was different and described it as a “complete bodge and a disaster”.

Payne warned that if the new guidance was issued, engagers would have to put performers and creatives on to Pay as You Earn tax.

“All of the advantages of your dual status would be lost,” she told the conference, referring to actors being self-employed for tax purposes but defined as ‘workers’ for employment rights.

“HMRC are on the verge of being out of control. They cannot – and must not – be allowed to try to overturn decades of consensus and precedent on tax status in the creative industries,” she said.

Payne went on to to describe the new guidance as “shoddy, inaccurate and ill thought through”, reminding members at the conference that chancellor Philip Hammond had tried to increase class 4 national insurance in 2017.

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“I believe that everything I’ve been talking about can be interpreted as a way of achieving the same results by stealth – by HMRC abusing its powers – without any consideration of the cost to our industry and its workers, and indeed in the end to the health of the nation’s economy, to which we contribute so greatly,” she said.

She added that the government should not “sit by and let HMRC put the health of the our vibrant creative industries at risk”.

Responding, an HMRC spokeswoman said the department had worked “extensively with stakeholders” to update its guidance for the media sector.

“The draft guidance does not change HMRC’s settled position on employment status within the media sector, which is based on case law,” she added.

She also said the rules determining employment status for tax had not changed and were the same for everyone.

“Employment status is never a matter of choice; it is always dictated by the facts.

“Actors do not have a dual tax status. Employment status for tax and employment status for rights are not the same thing. There is no direct link between taxes and rights,” she added.

For more coverage of the Equity Annual Representative Conference 2019, click here

Tax expert Dave Morrison: Is Robert Glenister a victim of HMRC’s propaganda war?

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