Big beasts of the TV production sector have begun process of re-hiring then furloughing staff
Super-indies are beginning the process of re-hiring then furloughing freelance workers so they can obtain government support as the BBC launches a fund to help those falling through the cracks.
Broadcast reached out to freelancers and industry sources along with spokespeople for all major super-indies, who said the move to furlough these staff has ramped up this week following a clarification in HMRC’s guidance.
Taking its cue from the wider BBC, commercial producer/distributor BBCS is understood to be paying all eligible fixed-term and PAYE freelancers their full salary for up to three months - up to £3,000 and backdated to 1 March – if they were on payroll on 28 February.
A full salary is higher than what the government’s furlough scheme pays out – 80% and maximum £2,500 per month.
Broadcast understands the wider BBC group has also set up a central fund to help freelancers falling through the cracks – mainly those who were not on any company’s payroll on the government-imposed 28 February cut-off date, a sticking point that the Treasury has refused to budge on.
Around half of 1,700 respondents to Bectu’s latest survey said they are missing out on both the government’s schemes for employed and freelance staff, with Universal Credit the only option for people in this fix.
Details are scant at this stage but the eligibility criteria for the BBC’s fund, which will apply to both the public service and commercial operations, are set to be outlined soon.
“Our freelance colleagues make a huge contribution to our output and we want to do everything we can to support them during this turbulent period when we’ve had to pause work on many of our productions,” said a BBCS spokesman.
In line with the wider ITV group, ITV Studios is also “offering to re-engage freelancers who were on payroll on 28 February” following the government’s updated guidelines.
An ITVS spokeswoman said the government is under pressure to ensure all freelancers can access support and pointed to active conversations taking place with HMRC and last week’s letter from Pact and the main broadcasters, which proposed an over-arching “solution”.
The proposal posed to HMRC is to advance the self-employment assistance scheme so that PAYE and tax records can be used to establish eligibility.
Meanwhile, All3Media, Endemol Shine, Fremantle and Argonon have all committed to the rehiring-then-furloughing-eligible-freelancers plan.
Respective spokespeople for these super-indies said they are in the process of rehiring and furloughing freelance staff “where appropriate”, “wherever we are able, in order to furlough the roles” and “working within government guidelines to furlough as many freelancers as possible”.
Fremantle added that it is working across the industry to help those who “fall outside the parameters set by the new legislation”
Last week, Pact chief executive John McVay said small indies struggling to stay solvent during the coronavirus pandemic will be hit hard if they are forced into furloughing freelancers, as businesses have to front up the money before they are reimbursed by the Treasury at the end of April.
Super-indies: statements in full
“We welcome HMRC’s update regarding the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the confirmation that we will be able to renew or extend fixed term PAYE contracts for those who were on the payroll on 28 February, allowing people to be furloughed through to the end of the scheme.
“We are following government guidelines and our production companies are now in the process of rehiring and furloughing freelance staff where appropriate. This is clearly a very difficult time for UK television production and we are pleased that steps are being taken to provide financial help for the freelance community.”
“We are doing all we can to support our freelancers and are in the process of re-hiring wherever we are able, in order to furlough the roles.”
“We are working within the Government and HMRC guidelines to furlough as many freelancers as possible. There are a small number who will fall outside the parameters set by the new legislation and we are working together across the industry, to support these individuals. We are totally committed and united in our support for this important community of freelancers who are at the heart of our business.”
”Argonon is active in the government retention schemes and where appropriate, we have placed as many of those roles as possible on furlough with the aim of re-engaging their services when our productions can safely resume. We’re a global business and are also exploring support schemes elsewhere to help our production teams. We care passionately about supporting all our staff, who are the lifeblood of our business, and joined with our partners across the creative sector to ask the government to support freelancers working across the industry during this unprecedented period.”
“Our freelance colleagues make a huge contribution to our output and we want to do everything we can to support them during this turbulent period when we’ve had to pause work on many of our productions. In addition to re-engaging their services as soon as we can safely continue filming, we have put a number of measures in place to protect and support freelancers experiencing loss of income now and in the coming months, with funding from the Government’s Coronavirus Retention Scheme for those who are eligible.”
ITV (incorporating ITV Studios)
“ITV works with freelancers through a variety of different arrangements (which includes the self-employed; freelancers paid through PAYE and those that work through a Limited Company) and we are working with the government to ensure that they are all covered by one or other of the government’s support schemes.
Following the updated guidelines, we will be offering to re-engage the freelancers who were on the payroll on the 28th February and meet the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme criteria.
Along with other PSBs, we have been urging the chancellor to support the freelance community and new, unprecedented measures for the self-employed were announced.
On Friday, along with other major UK broadcasters, we called upon the government to take further steps to ensure that freelancers at risk of not being covered by the current support packages will be able to draw on vital government support at this time.