TV License Fee
The way we consume TV is changing - and so is the fee.
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The licence fee does have some concessions – for example, TV licences are free for over 75s (as funded by the government), and you do not currently need a licence if you only watch programmes on demand services such as iPlayer and 4oD.
The relationship between the UK government and the BBC has a complex history, and the speculation in the run up to the Budget recently appears to have relit the fire, with George Osborne being expected to announce that the BBC must make a contribution to the deficit in the form of funding approximately 4.5m TV licences for over 75s. As previously mentioned, this is currently funded by the government, but it appears likely that the Conservatives have targeted it as a key area to make cuts to the deficit.
With these expected cuts indicating that the BBC could lose around one-fifth of its budget, the upcoming Budget certainly seems to indicate worrying times for the broadcaster. However, there is a proposed change which could potentially lead to the long term salvation of the BBC’s budget.
The situation at present is that technology and the way that people view TV shows is evolving much more rapidly than the law on TV licensing. Following the BBC’s revelation that its licence fee income was down by £150m a year, due to so many people using a significant loophole, which means that you can watch catch-up programmes without needing a licence.
Osbourne may well offer some concessions to the broadcaster, which would necessitate changing the law in order to require on demand viewers to also pay some form of fee for doing so.
However, this £150m of course only goes so far, and with the BBC expected to face £650m cuts in the form of losing the over 75s funding from the government, this certainly seems to indicate that a change is needed. But could it come in the form of an alternative to the licence fee?
Some have called for a lower broadcasting levy on all households, with additional subscription services available for those who use more of the BBC’s services. Evidently, this has its fair share of sceptics, with many arguing that the TV licence should remain as a service charge type of system and not a tax for everyone (although the fee is currently classed as a tax).
Advocates of the levy, however, argue that it would eliminate the need for enforcement officers and costly detection methods, as well as decriminalise the approximately 5% of households who do watch live TV but do not have a licence. Currently, they can potentially face a fine of up to £1000, a court appearance and a criminal record. Many see it as unfair to criminalise those who cannot afford to pay the licence fee.
We are some way off reaching a clear vision of the TV licence fee’s future, but the recent Budget talks will go some way to indicating the current government’s plans for the BBC, and how it is funded.