Robert Glenister, British actor well-known for parts in the BBC’s Hustle and Spooks, stated that an HMRC investigation into historical taxes directly lead to his being medicated for depression, as reported in The Times.

The actor also spoke about the impact the investigation had on his ability to work, reflecting on a panic attack he experienced during a 2017 West End production of Glengarry Glen Ross that caused him to simply freeze halfway through lines.  

The stress caused by an HMRC investigation has been reported on widely within the contracting community, with proven suicides having come of certain legislation – namely the Loan Charge, IR35’s more insidious cousin - orchestrated by the taxman in recent years. However, the approach taken to these investigations does not seem to be changing, despite open controversy.

What was Glenister’s tax investigation focused on?

Glenister’s on-stage freeze came just weeks after he collapsed during another performance, and was chalked up to possibly declining health at the time. However, the actor has confirmed this week that his issues were a product of depression and anxiety caused by a tax investigation.

He was notified by the Treasury that he owed around £150,000 in backdated National Insurance Contributions (NICs), stemming back to a 7-year stint of providing his acting services via a Personal Service Company (PSC). Glenister, 59, lost his tribunal in October 2017 and had his appeal rejected the following April, meaning he’s now facing an astronomical tax bill at the same age most working people are considering retirement.

Similar high-profile cases have been reported on in mainstream media this year. Lorraine Kelly has just won her tribunal, as has Loose Women’s Kaye Adams. Eammon Holmes’ investigation is still ongoing, with the decision long overdue thus far. However, all of the above were IR35 cases – Robert Glenister’s case was focused around his NICs in particular.

Andy Vessey ATT, Head of Tax here at Larsen Howie and tax law veteran, explains:

“Big Bad Wolff Ltd was not a strict IR35 case but rather an NIC case, and one which dealt with the interaction of some specific NIC categorisation rules, unique to entertainers, within IR35. Ordinary contractors should therefore not be concerned about the First & Upper tier Tribunal rulings as these special rules do not affect them. Furthermore, the rules were changed from 06.04.14.”

Emotional toll of an HMRC investigation

As reported in The Times, Glenister points to the tax investigation as the cause of his professional problems.

“When the whole thing kicked off I got very depressed, so I am on medication for depression,” he said. “I had a blip during one preview. I blacked out. I was very anxious and mentally I was very stressed.”

“I put that down to the pressure that has been going on with HMRC. It’s a very difficult thing to live with,” he continued. “I have been affected and my family sees it, which is not nice for them. But you have to keep going somehow.”

Andy Vessey also reflects on the emotional toll such an investigation can have, particularly to those that aren’t necessarily as financially stable as the actors and presenters that've undergone investigations since the IR35 public sector reform.

“Even monied celebrities are affected by HMRC investigations, particularly lengthy investigations,” he says. “Contractors can sometimes face IR35 enquiries lasting in excess of 3 years, which is extremely stressful for the individual concerned and puts their lives on hold during that time, as they are unable to make important business decisions due to the uncertainty created by the enquiry.”

“Some HMRC officials - not all I hasten to add - live in their own little bubble, detached from the real world, driven by revenue targets and with seemingly little regard to the Taxpayers’ Charter or the effect their actions have on their fellow human beings. If a fine actor like Robert Glenister, and someone who gives the impression of being a strong person, can have his mental health affected in this way, then anyone could suffer the same fate.”

Tax enquiries are rife in the post-reform public sector

The BBC are no strangers to historical tax investigations. At the beginning of 2019, BBC chiefs spoke openly about the impact that IR35 and HMRC’s Check Employment Status Test (CEST) tool have had on broadcasting, and how the legislation reform has damaged relationships with some of the broadcaster’s longstanding contractors.

The NHS has suffered similar negative effects, having seen a huge drop in locum nurse, doctor and surgeon numbers thanks to the reintroduction of IR35.

A report written by the House of Lords probed the handling of the Loan Charge and the taxman’s growing powers in general and came to the conclusion that there was gross misuse of the Treasury’s position to scare up revenue. The report also highlighted the Treasury’s ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to its investigations, and explicitly warned of the mental health issues that such treatment of taxpayers could cause.

The misapplication of tax legislation and the mental health problems it’s causing continues to go unchecked, however.

“The department must not tolerate mavericks within their ranks,” Vessey comments. “Until they recognise and address this problem, then is there any wonder that HMRC is loathed by some members of the public.”

Additional notes for contractors

A genuine contractor, freelancer or consultant who is in business on their own account shouldn’t have anything to worry about when it comes to IR35. However, contract reviews are always advisable; whilst you may know that they're legitimate, IR35 determinations are notoriously subjective.

Should you want some peace of mind, we offer a full contract review amongst other services to help you prepare for IR35. We’ll give a pass or fail based on the current contract you hold, along with comprehensive comments on how to improve any problem areas.

We also offer IR35 investigation representation from our Head of Tax and resident IR35 expert Andy Vessey ATT should it go to tribunal.

For any further information or advice, please call us on 01163 800 400 or drop us an email. Alternatively, take a look around our Knowledge Hub for more IR35 advice, industry news and contractor guides.

Image credit: Robert Glenister in Glengarry Glen Ross in 2017. Photo: Tristram Kenton

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