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How is tax different for film industry jobs?

  • 3 min read
  • Last updated 18 Jan 2024

Self-employment is a big factor in film industry jobs, especially if you work behind the camera. However, unlike the general self-employed workforce that have a more clearly defined employment status, the film industry is different. 

In contrast, they are split between those on PAYE and those who have to file a tax return, despite both being technically self-employed. 

What is PAYE?

PAYE stands for Pay As You Earn. It’s a way of paying Income Tax and National Insurance through your wages. 

You’re most commonly on the PAYE tax structure as an employee. But when you work in the film and TV industry as a freelancer, you may be paid by the production via PAYE, despite not being an employee.    

As an employee, you will also pay the following through PAYE:

  • Pension contributions
  • Your student loan

When you’re self-employed, you will have to make private contributions into a pension independently of your work. 

You pay your student loan via your tax return. 

Are PAYE film industry jobs the same as employment?

No, they’re not. The majority of film industry jobs are characterised by short-term contracts and casual/freelance work. This is because many of them only last the duration of a specific production e.g. a television programme or a film. Others are based on a finite period e.g. a yearly 3-month production. 

In this case, each working agreement must be separate from the last. If it is not, you may have your employment status reviewed.

Employee benefits

Even if you’re paid via PAYE, you’re different from permanent employees. You don’t have access to the following permanent employment benefits such as:

  • Job security – you can have your work agreement terminated at any time and you won’t be paid redundancy
  • Holiday pay – if you don’t work, you’re not paid
  • Pension contributions – you must plan for the future independently 

What is the Lorimer case?

The Hall v Lorimer case was a court ruling about the employment status of a TV technician. Now, short-term workers in the film and TV industry use this as a landmark guide for their employment status.

  • Mr Lorimer worked between 120-150 short-term gigs
  • Each engagement was between 2 to 3 days long
  • The gigs were for 22 different companies
  • He made £32,000 and incurred £9000 expenses
  • The court ruled that he was self-employed
  • He could deduct his expenses from his income
  • Film and TV industry self-employed professionals now use Lorimer letters to prove their self-employment status

Film industry jobs that are not PAYE

If your production does not deduct tax for you via your wages, you will need to complete a Self Assessment and file a tax return to do this yourself. 

As a self-employed worker, you will pay the following tax on your return:

The rate that you pay Income Tax depends on what you earn. Take a look at the table below to calculate what you might owe, or check out our Income Tax calculator to have the maths done for you! 

What you earnTax bandTax rate
Up to £12,570Personal Allowance0%
Up to £50,270Basic Rate20%
£50,271 – £125,140Higher Rate40%
Over £125,141Additional Rate45%

Film and TV industry expenses

As we mentioned in the details of the Lorimer case, self-employed workers in the film industry (and generally) can deduct their expenses from their earnings.

Here is a list of allowable expenses that you can deduct to lower your tax bill. But these are just a few examples – you can technically expense anything, as long as you can prove that it is a business expense i.e. bought for work purposes:

  • Camera equipment
  • Lighting
  • Printers
  • Laptops and computers
  • Computer software
  • Travel expenses (business travel)
  • Props
  • Accounting costs

Be aware that you can ONLY claim expenses if you are taxed as a self-employed worker and not via PAYE.

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