Former Look North presenter Christa Ackroyd tonight emerged from a landmark five-year tax battle described as the “tip of an iceberg” for the BBC, in which a tribunal ruled that she could face a bill of £419,000 despite not having acted dishonestly.
The long-time host, who was poached from ITV’s rival Calendar in 2001, is the first of more than 100 BBC presenters to have been handed a judgement following investigations by HM Revenue and Customs into their contractual arrangements with the corporation.
Ms Ackroyd, who lives near Halifax, broke her silence to describe “five horrendous years of innuendo and gossip” since she was abruptly taken off screen.
She said the judgement by a Tax Chamber tribunal “proves once and for all I am not, nor could I ever have been expected to envisage what would happen when I signed a BBC freelance contract in good faith”.
She had been engaged by the BBC as a freelance through her own “personal service company” – a common arrangement for presenters until HMRC clamped down on the practice because they considered it a potential tax loophole.
The BBC confirmed tonight it engaged many presenters on similar terms, and last night an industry expert warned that a raft of other judgements could follow. Dave Chaplin, founder of Contractor Calculator, an website for freelancers and contractors added: “I have a lot of sympathy for Christa Ackroyd. HMRC has effectively put her out of a job.”
Ms Ackroyd said: “I signed that BBC freelance contract in good faith.
“I took this case to tribunal to re-establish my honesty and integrity and despite the adverse ruling this judgement has done just that.”
She said the tribunal’s figure of £419,000 in tax and national insurance did not include payments she had already made.
A spokesman for the BBC said: “The BBC was not party to this case, and as was standard industry practice at the time the individual was engaged as a freelancer in 2001 and paid via their existing company.
“Until last year it was for individuals with service companies rather than those engaging them to determine their status for tax purposes.
“The use of personal service companies is entirely legitimate and common practice across the industry as it provides flexibility for both individuals and organisations.
“An independent review conducted in 2012 found that there was no evidence that the BBC had attempted to avoid income tax or NIC by contracting in this way.”