BBC backs down on expenses

Major changes have been announced in the BBC's controversial new expenses policy.

Rules for meal claims are to be relaxed, the cap on hotel claims is being raised, and BBC Resources Limited will opt out of the Corporation's single expenses policy.

The announcement came as BECTU's BBC-wide work-to-rule against the new expenses regime entered its seventh week, with problems mounting behind the scenes for managers struggling to keep programmes going. BECTU imposed the action after the BBC changed its expenses system without agreement in February.

Union representatives were due to be briefed on the BBC's about-face later today, Tuesday April 10, and members were expected to pass their verdict on the changes in a postal ballot.

All BBC staff will benefit from the revised expenses rules, even though the NUJ and AEEU did not officially participate in the work-to-rule.

For staff outside Resources Limited, the key changes to the expenses policy affect their right to claim reimbursement for meals. The system of "capped actuality" remains in place, meaning that receipts will still be needed to support all claims, but meals can be claimed in a wider range of circumstances, and the limit for overnight claims is raised from £55 to £65, with the option for management to approve higher hotel bills when appropriate.

Under the revised rules, staff outside Resources Limited:

  • qualify for a meal claim if they are more than 5 miles away from their own base for at least five hours (not any BBC base as currently worded);
  • will escape paying tax on meals within 5 miles of their own base if operational reasons prevent them returning to eat at a BBC site (applies only to News, News Resources, and "similar" staff in Nations & Regions and World Service);
  • can combine the £6 lunch and £10 evening meal limits to fund a more expensive main meal in the evening;
  • can claim up to £10 for a meal after 8pm even if it is the only meal taken on duty that day;
  • will qualify for a second meal six hours after the first in any working day (the need to work 12 hours or longer has been dropped);
  • also, car mileage rates for vehicles up to 1500cc will be raised in line with the Inland Revenue limits, and cash advances are to be reintroduced "in limited circumstances".

For the 1600 staff in Resources Limited, most of them working in London Operations, the "capped actuality" system is scrapped completely, and scale rates for meals and hotels are to be restored. Receipts will still be required for hotel claims, but meal claims will be paid as indicated on staff schedules.

However, the new travel arrangements which were forced through by London Ops. management with other contract changes in March, remain unchanged.

Throughout the work-to-rule the union has questioned the BBC's decision to allow Worldwide Limited to opt out of the single expenses policy, while insisting that Resources Limited should be bound by new rules that were reviled by staff in the subsidiary company.

BECTU believes that the six-week work-to-rule was instrumental in forcing the BBC to reconsider its new expenses rules, and reports from around the country suggest that line managers vigorously lobbied their superiors to reverse many of the changes.

The dispute over expenses began last September, when the BBC announced plans for a new policy, but refused to negotiate the changes with the recognised unions. Eventually, management gave in, and held two "consultative" meetings with unions, but BECTU officials warned that the BBC's refusal to negotiate properly on the new policy would lead to disaster.

Union representatives believe that their fears have been vindicated, and have welcomed the BBC's climb-down in the face of growing criticism.

10 April 2001