Government to seek public opinion on decriminalising TV licence evasion

Government to seek public opinion on decriminalising TV licence evasion

Government to seek public opinion on decriminalising TV licence evasion

The culture secretary, Nicky Morgan, suggested the television licence was an increasingly outdated way of funding the BBC, saying that while she would guarantee its existence in the short term, it was time to look at new ways of subsidising public service broadcasting.

Baroness Morgan launched an eight-week consultation into whether the failure to pay the Licence Fee should be decimalised.

Yet, quoting 2019 research from United Kingdom broadcast regulator Ofcom that showed a massively changing media landscape especially among younger viewers whose first call now was to the SVOD giants, Morgan sais that the world in which the BBC was created, and the Licence Fee was established, has changed beyond recognition. "These are not easy issues and they will require some honest and at times hard conversations", she added. "It will require the BBC to be innovative and to move with the times".

The possibility of losing guaranteed licence fee money comes at a time when the 100-year-old BBC is under attack on several fronts ranging from accusations of extravagant spending to political bias.

Ms Morgan announced a flexible payment scheme for the TV licence to allow "vulnerable people, including those over the age of 75" to split the bill into instalments.

The BBC's director general, Tony Hall, announced last month that he would stand down to allow his successor to conduct negotiations with the government over the amount it can charge for the licence fee - now set at £154.50 a year - between 2022 and 2027.

From June, the current scheme of all over-75s receiving free TV licences will be restricted to those who claim pension credit.

Many members of the government, including newly-instated DCMS chair Julian Knight, are in favour of reform to the licence fee and increasingly leaning towards a Netflix-like subscription model.

The move towards allowing flexible payments has been criticised by Age UK's charity director Caroline Abrahams, who said that the new payment scheme will not necessarily help those who find it hard to afford a licence. "Many people consider it wrong that you can be imprisoned for not paying for your TV license".

The TV tax is compulsory for anyone who watches live or records live television or uses BBC iPlayer.

"With negotiations on its funding due to start later this year, there's a need for an urgent and open conversation about how people consume media and how they should pay for it".

If decriminalisation of the TV licence fee were to go through, it would have a considerable impact on BBC funding.

"A detailed Government-commissioned review found the current system to be the fairest and most effective".

"It did not recommend change - in part because the current system is effective in ensuring payment with very few people ever going to prison".

The BBC said only five people in England and Wales were jailed for non-payment of such fines.

In a wide ranging speech about the corporation including how it is funded, how the Licence Fee is collected Morgan actually compared the BBC to now defunct video rental service Blockbuster warning that similarities between the two organisations existed.

"There is a danger that politicians catastrophise the situation".

The Secretary insisted that British broadcasters remain essential to the United Kingdom, no matter how much funding global streaming platforms have, and that PSBs are best placed to create content with British viewpoints and identities. More than 1.5 million households could qualify to keep their free licence in this way, but up to 3.7 million people will lose their free licences.

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