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Saturday, Oct 31, 2020

BBC TV licence row: Hated fee could be replaced with new household tax, claims BBC chief

THE hated BBC TV licence fee could be scrapped and replaced by a compulsory "household tax" that would require richer families to pay more, the corporation's outgoing Director-General has revealed.

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, who steps down from his role on Friday after more than seven years, admitted progressive alternatives to the much-criticised TV licence were "interesting" and "should be looked at". He suggested the annual levy, currently standing at £157.50, could be collected as an additional charge on current household bills, such as council tax and broadband. This could mean the BBC saving a substantial amount of time, money and effort tracking down those attempting to swerve the payment.

In its current form, the TV licence fee is guaranteed until at least 2027, but the Government has previously indicated a new funding system to fit with the new digital era could be implemented after this time.

Speaking during his exit interview on The Media Show on Radio 4, Lord Hall admitted the household tax in Germany, which sees all homes pay regardless of whether they own a TV, radio or smartphone, could work better than the current TV licence.

He said: "I think finding ways in which the licence fee can be charged progressively so those who can afford to pay more and those who can't afford to pay less, should be looked at.

"Should it be collected in a way on household bills, council tax bills, to cut down the cost?"

Several Conservative Party MPs and a handful of BBC executives have led calls for the TV licence fee to be replaced with a Netflix-style subscription people in which can choose to opt into.

Two Tory backbenchers have also drafted a private member's bill calling for privatisation of the BBC and for it to face more stringent measures over its impartiality, an issue that has also come in for heavy criticism recently.

They are also calling for the non-payment of the TV licence fee to be decriminalised - particularly after the free benefit was scrapped for over-75s earlier this month.

But Lord Hall claimed a funding model that risked the principle of universality was not a viable option.

He said: "If you want to have something good, a public service available to all, then that has to be funded by all, not by subscription or behind some paywall."

Earlier this month, the BBC sparked fury by pressing ahead with its decision to scrap the universal free TV licence for over-75s.

The Corporation is now means-testing the entitlement, meaning over-75s must receive pension credit to receive the free TV licence, which costs £157.50.

The broadcasting giant had delayed the changes to the free benefit due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping through the country.

Defund The BBC, which is pushing to decriminalise and make the TV licence cover BBC content only, accused the Corporation of enforcing a strategy of "spreading deliberate misinformation and harassing the public" into paying for a TV licence, raging piling this charge onto over-75s is "immoral".

Defund the BBC told Express.co.uk: “We know that many people are scared and confused by TV licensing.

"The BBC’s strategy of harassing the public into paying for a TV licence is wrong.

"When that coercion is turned on the elderly and vulnerable it becomes deeply immoral.

"The BBC needs to make it crystal clear that you can own a TV and watch numerous platforms containing on-demand without a TV licence.

"The licence is a relic of a bygone era that needs to be scrapped as soon as possible.

"The BBC is not adhering to the terms of its Charter and therefore we call on the Government to start paving the way for the corporation’s right to tax for watching any live TV to be removed.”

Jeremy Hutton, policy analyst at the TaxPayers' Alliance, told Express.co.uk: "Year after year Auntie confounds British taxpayers with reports of sky-high salaries often well in excess of what the Prime Minister earns. 2020 is clearly no exception.

“Instead of taxing ever more people, the BBC should move on from the outdated licence fee model and embrace a more modern, and fair, alternative.”

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