142. One of the main objections to the licence fee
is, of course, its regressive nature. The Davies report commented
that "while the licence fee is a good way of financing public
service broadcasting, it is a very bad way of taxing the public."
With the exception of the welcome, and long overdue, suggested
50% concession for blind people (which the Government went on
to implement) the Davies panel was unable to identify additional
ways of making the system "obviously" fairer.
143. Were the licence fee ever to be replaced as
the main funding mechanism for the BBC, it would be essential
to include equivalents to existing concessions, such as those
applying to blind and partially-sighted people.
144. There are practical problems associated with
introducing a more progressive licence fee, such as possible administrative
complexities associated with extending concessions. Some very
welcome concessions, including the system of free licences for
people over 75, have the administrative (not to mention social)
benefit of avoiding any form of means testing.
145. However, our constituents regularly bring to
our notice a number of anomalies under the present system. Examples
have occurred in relation to servicemen and women in barracks
(consequential on the ending of a second home concession in 1996)
and to people living in sheltered accommodation or other forms
of shared housing.
146. We recommend that the operation of concessionary
schemes, for example in relation to accommodation for residential
care, be reviewed by the DCMS to ensure that they are effective
and consistent and that oppressive anomalies are eliminated. Consideration
should be given to extending concessions in other areas of multiple
occupation such as student halls of residence, live-in staff accommodation
and service barracks.
147. The previous Committee's report into the funding
of the BBC identified anomalies, and injustices, in the licence
fee collection and payment methods being deployed.
Among more recent criticisms is one from the Institute for Public
Policy Research: "Bizarrely, the current methods of payment,
such as the Cash Easy Entry Scheme, established to best aid the
least well-off, require a higher licence fee payment in total."
148. We recommend the BBC carry out further work
on the development of easier payment methods, including by credit
card. People who pay by instalments must not be financially penalised
for doing so.
149. The BBC should report annually on the collection
of the licence fee, providing an assessment of its equity, and
the operation of concessions and proposals for their modification
Collecting the licence fee
150. In addition to the nature of the licence fee
and its level, there remains controversy over how it is collected.
In his criminal courts review, one of the many subjects covered
by Lord Justice Auld was TV licence evasion. In this context the
role of the BBC was summarised: "The licence fee is a standard
hypothecated tax on access to television in its entirety (not
just on BBC channels). The Government decides what proportion
of the licence fee income should go to the BBC, and currently
the BBC receives it all. The BBC collects the fees on behalf of
the Government and decides on enforcement and prosecution policies.
These policies are based on the Code for Crown Prosecutors issued
by the Director of Public Prosecutions and, therefore, take into
account public interest considerations such as whether alleged
offenders are in genuine financial hardship or otherwise vulnerable.
The BBC devolves responsibility for prosecution to a contractor."
151. Lord Justice Auld went on to recommend that,
while the use of a television without a licence should remain
a criminal offence, it should be dealt with in the first instance
by fixed penalty notice "discounted for prompt purchase of
a licence and payment of penalty, and subject to the defendant's
right to dispute guilt in court." In its response, the Government
undertook to give further consideration to this.
Fixed penalties would normally feature, if at all, on an enhanced
criminal record certificate, issued only in relation to particularly
sensitive jobs or positions.
152. We are well aware of concerns that the BBC's
agent, TV Licensing, has sometimes deployed inappropriate tactics
in attempts to maximise collection of the licence fee. These
have included a crude and damaging assumption that every household
must be in possession of a TV set, or equivalent apparatus. While
payment of the licence fee by households which actually have a
TV is a legal obligation, we remind the BBC that the finances
it receives from the licence are a privilege. The Corporation
should use a less menacing style of advertising campaign.
153. During passage of the Communications Bill, Citizens
Advice lobbied unsuccessfully to make the TV licence fee recoverable
as a civil matter only.
Under these proposals, the licence fee would be recoverable through
the small claims process only as a last resort where other payment
mechanisms or schedules had failed. More recently, the Institute
for Public Policy Research has come to a similar view.
We believe non-payment of the television licence should become
a civil matter. In the meantime, Lord Justice Auld's recommendation
that fixed penalty notices be introduced in respect of TV licence
non-payment should be implemented.
103 http://www.markjones.org.uk/ Back
TV Licensing was run by Consignia until 2002 when the contract
was won by Capita. The NAO reported on licence collection at this
juncture: The BBC: Collecting the television licence fee, HC 821,
Report of the Committee on Financing the BBC, Cmnd 9824, July
The Future Funding of the BBC, DCMS, July 1999 Back
Ev 119, Q 177; Ev 111, Q 144; Note that conditional access systems
do not necessarily require return paths. Back
Ev 24-28; see also Ev 123, Q 198 and Ev 232, Q 588 Back
Ev 23 Back
Ev 92, Q 50 Back
Oral Evidence and Written Evidence, 2003-04, HC 598-iEv 15-21
Safeguarding the Future of the European Audiovisual Market, ACT,
AER and EPC, March 2004 Back
Submission to the public consultation on the future of the BBC:
'Your BBC, Your Say', Public Voice, February 2004 Back
Ev 196, Q441 Back
Ev 196 Back
Ev 194 Back
Ev 16 Back
Ev 44-46 Back
"Thompson tackles Dyke over C4 taunt", Broadcast, 11
April 2002 Back
Ev 18 Back
Ev 222 Back
Ev 52-57 Back
Ev 249 Back
The Future Funding of the BBC, DCMS, July 1999 p 9 Back
Ev 32 Back
Third Report, 1999-2000, HC 25 Back
From Public Service Broadcasting to Public Service Communications,
IPPR, 2004 p 176 Back
A Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales, The Right
Honourable Lord Justice Auld, September 2001 Back
Justice for All: Responses to the Auld and Halliday Reports, Home
Office, 2002 Back
Communications Bill: Briefing for Clauses 169-179, Lords 2nd Reading,
Citizens Advice, 2003 Back
From Public Service Broadcasting to Public Service Communications,
IPPR, 2004 pp 176-177 Back