The actor Robert Glenister has spoken out against the devastating impact of being investigated by HMRC. Best known for his roles in high profile TV dramas Spooks and Hustle, Glenister has opened up to the press after struggling with severe anxiety and depression as the result of his long running tax dispute with HM Revenue & Customs.
Glenister, 59, lost his tribunal in October 2017 and had his appeal rejected the following April, meaning that he’s now facing a backdated tax bill to the tune of £150,000. The case concerned a seven year period where the actor provided his acting services via a Personal Service Company (PSC), Big Bad Wolff Ltd. NIC rules that are specific to entertainers meant that the court dismissed the appeal in this instance. However, ordinary contractors aren’t affected by these rules, which changed from 6th April 2014.
The actor spoke about the difficulty of being under long-term investigation and HMRC’s often questionable handling of the process. Despite asking to speak to a tax inspector face-to-face, the actor’s requests were ignored. Commenting on HMRC’s refusal to humanise the process, he said: “I have never met a tax inspector in nine years, and I find that anonymity quite sinister. You can’t have a government body behaving in that way – it’s like the Stasi.”
In addition to the £150,000 tax bill, HMRC are still adding interest, and haven’t yet contacted the actor to confirm the final amount. The bill has meant that Glenister is being forced to consider re-mortgaging his home at a time when he would have otherwise been thinking about retirement. The Spook’s star said he’s been prescribed anti-depressants and medication for high blood pressure. He also suffered from severe anxiety that resulted in panic attacks during his stage performances.
Glenister’s defeat marks a rare victory for HMRC in a spate of high profile cases against media personalities, such as presenters Lorraine Kelly and Loose Women’s Kaye Adams, while Eammon Holmes’ investigation is still ongoing. Glenister spoke about the mental strain on actors, who typically work under pressure and without financial security: ‘Actors are vulnerable because there is always an element of ‘Where is the next job coming from?’ and we are easily intimidated because of that vulnerability’.
There’s growing concern that the confused and irresponsible application of IR35 reforms is having a crippling effect on many contractors, who, by the very nature of their profession, undertake greater financial risk than employees. Bona fide contractors also work without benefits such as sick pay and holiday pay, and without support structures such as a HR department.
Regardless of their industry, working under pressure without a safely net is something that most contractors can identify with. Although contractors often work with minimal supervision, in order to minimise being seen as “part and parcel” of an organisation, they must increasingly shun all team building and work-related socialising.
The actor’s union Equity has recently taken aim at HMRC, warning that the department is on the verge of being “out of control”. Following a recent report written by the House of Lords that concluded gross misuse of propaganda and scaremongering to collect revenue, there have been calls from the contracting industry for increased regulation. The report also highlights the Treasury’s ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to its investigations, warning of the mental health issues that such treatment could cause.
Contractors are being advised to keep up to date with the latest IR35 developments. From April 2020, reforms introduced into the public sector in 2017 will also apply in the private sector. You can read about the latest government consultation here.
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