The TV Licence Fee Has Had Its Day

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009. 1:43am

Not many MPs bothered to turn up to debate the TV license fee in October 2008

Thanks to I was able to put a question to Jeremy Hunt MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport today. Via Twitter I asked: “Will you commit to abolish the TV Licence? If you do, what consequential changes to public service broadcasting are you planning?”

Mr Hunt replied:

“We won’t commit to abolishing the TV license. It’s a strange system. I think its a system which if you were starting from scratch no self-respecting free marketeer would ever set up a compulsory tax to pay a state broadcaster that everybody in the country has to pay. But, um, I think we have to be open minded and accept that actually the result has been a great success for British Broadcasting, I mean we probably have some of the best quality TV in the world and part of that is because we have diversity, we have some TV funded by the licence fee, some funded by subscription (that’s sort of Sky, Cable channels), some funded commercially by advertising. And the result is we are probably one of the only TV ecologies in the world where we have competition both at the popular end of the broadcasting and at the quality end, and its that maintenance of competition, that all parts of the broadcasting spectrum that’s what we have to fight to preserve. I think there’s a real danger that if there’s a shake out in broadcasting as we know is happening at the moment with ITV and Channel Four and Five the BBC could become the only people who are able to afford to produce quality TV”.

This was a worthwhile question to ask, as the question of the TV license is one the Conservative party is currently split on. I genuinely didn’t know what answer Mr Hunt would come out with when asked, and am quite surprised he has been so categorical. I applaud him for answering my question directly and stating: “We won’t commit to abolishing the TV license”. However I don’t agree this is the best way forward for Britain and think the Conservatives might change this point of view before they go into the next general election.

The day after Mr Hunt’s interview, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture and Media Committe didn’t say scrap the TV Licence, but did call for it not to be increased by the 2% proposed this year. Not increasing the fee is an untenable – sitting on the fence – position, as over time it will result in a fee which is uneconomic to collect.

Technology advances have made the TV licence a tax on computers and mobile phones. Any equipment capable of recieving live TV, even via the internet, needs a license. I think this means that the TV licence has become unenforceable, and a selectively enforced and collected tax is unacceptable and a recipe for anarchy. The TV license needs to be scrapped and replaced with public service broadcasting funded from general taxation, commercial activity and advertising.

The TV license system has not only been overtaken by advances in technology, but the fee is collected aggressively and wastes court time and prison spaces. Enforcement also unfairly targets women who are statistically most likely to be at home when enforcement officers visit and therefore become the person who is prosecuted. Reform is needed in the funding of public service broadcasting in the UK, and the Conservatives are too conservative to propose it.

I am a huge fan of the BBC, Channel Four, the world service and other public service broadcasting service, much of which is already funded through general taxation.

We need to support the media industry in the UK, it is one of our valuable exporters and in my view ought to form a key part of the UK’s knowledge based economy in the next few decades. State funding is essential, as is editorial independence for the BBC and other recipients of state funding. None of this needs to be risked by moving away from the licence fee towards a fairer, easier to enforce and cheaper way of collecting money to fund public service broadcasting, in fact removing inefficient collection costs might result in more funds being available.

While editorial control needs to be independent of the Government, funding from general taxation might enable more control to be exercised over waste and excess particularly at the BBC.

I support scraping the TV tax. The argument put forward by the Liberal Democrats is that this will result in their members, many of whom don’t watch TV, paying for something they don’t use is nonsense. These people do benefit from the services of the BBC, in terms of resilience and contribution to UK culture, and many of them will benefit from BBC output be it online, or on the radio. Those without TVs will benefit as they will no longer be persecuted for payment of a tax they do not owe. There are many things that are good for, and necessary for the good of the county which not everyone benefits from directly. Not everyone drives but all are expected to contribute to the roads, not everyone has children in state schools yet all contribute to the provision.

In September 2008 I responded to the BBC Trust – Review of TV Licence Fee Collection, my representation is available via this link.

21 comments/updates on “The TV Licence Fee Has Had Its Day

  1. jime d

    I think the BBC should be a subscription based model, those who use the BBC should pay, those who don’t pay can’t receive a signal because it will be encoded!

    Fair and simple!

  2. bert

    “Not everyone drives but all are expected to contribute to the roads”

    But nearly everyone walks, sometimes near roads, if they are not maintained then pedestrians are at risk near roads.

    i can ride a bike if i want to as well!

  3. martin

    I was never told of this LAW when I bought my television nor did I ask for any service from the BBC,therefor I dont believe that I have any contract with them. I believe that a signature campaign in shopping areas and the likes will force politicians to take up our fight to abolish this cruel and unfair law.

  4. John Lawton

    Martin, I am afraid I cannot see how the licence fee can be termed a ‘cruel and unfair law’, that is rather an exaggeration. Funding public service broadcasting, and that includes Channel 4, is a tricky matter with the plethora of media these days. Thinks – if I was only permitted to watch ITV, that might be termed cruel!

  5. pat pending

    look the tossers at buck house own the bbc premises and are taking the mother f****** piss…you know why….no one out side the uk pays a f***** tv fee….your all f***** high…i bet the falklands war was based on stupid f***** ideas about expanding the juristiction for the fee……..just f*** off conning money off people and get a f****** job windsor you ponce………..

  6. Anthony Fallon

    Scotland doesnt pay for a bbc T.V licence, the way people are punished is against human rights, and parliment hasnt never taken the opinions of the masses. Information should be free to all, Itv survives without a yearly peyment so do other channels. BAN THE TV LICENCE WIN VOTES

  7. Mel Davis

    I think it is disgusting that we in England are being mugged by the BBC once a year. I don’t even watch their channels! It should be subscription based then those who can’t live without Eastenders can pay a fee to watch. THE AIRWAVES ARE FREE BBC and we should not be forced by any law to pay for something that is FREE.

  8. Haysam Katmawi

    Third world country like Syrian Arab republic scrap TV licence more than 20 years ago and you still have it for the same program repeated again and again although I have a TV licence but I do not even watch your program I seek news from newspaper and internet and usually get education TV program on a DVD for my children about time to scrap TV licence don’t the BBC get their grant from Europe isn’t that enough
    Haysam London

  9. David Vincent

    I am always fascinated by the amount of vitriol stirred up by discussions about the TV licence fee. Because of this, many of us move instintively to defend it, even when it is clearly in need of a rethink. There are two main problems with the fee, (a) it is a regressive tax – because it is a set amount, it is disproportionately severe on the poor – and (b) it is expensive and cumbersome to enforce and collect. Nevertheless, the reasons for it being set in place in the first place remain strong. Broadcasting must remain independent of political threats and interference, which funding from general taxation would threaten. When we are already seeing the Murdoch empire embarking on a concerted attack on many aspects of the BBC’s work, as well as attempting to remove the requirement for political impartiality from broadcast news, at the same time as they have moved to support the Conservatives, it is clearly a moment of extreme danger for public broadcasting. We may be the only country with a TV licence, but the BBC is also an incredibly strong and unique international “brand” (which is, of course, one of the things that annoys the Murdochs – along with the fact that whilst the BBC is committed to providing free, impartial and valued news over the internet, he will never make a go of a subscription model for his news web-sites).

    Do we really want the US broadcasting model, for instance, let alone the Syrian one?

  10. Rick.B

    if abolishing the tv licence fee or getting the BBC to become a subscription channel, then the BBC needs to tell people what a tv licence is really needed for. theres alot of people out there who dont need one as they only use the tv for watching dvd’s, pre-recorded videos and as monitor for games consoles/pc’s using a tv in this manner means they dont need a tv licence, yet you get tv licence officers telling them that they do (this is basically against the law as its obtaining money by deceit which i believe is fraud)

  11. Richard Article author


    If you have any means of receiving TV as it is broadcast then under the current law a licence is required. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use the equipment you have, or use it only for a purpose other than receiving broadcast television the licence is still required.

    As I wrote in my article this means the UK TV licence is also a effectively a computer licence, and is rapidly becoming a mobile phone licence too.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The below comment from Phil Rodgers indicates this isn’t quite right and it’s “any apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving…any television programme service” which needs a licence. So a computer or mobile phone “installed” for another purpose wouldn’t need a licence unless it was used to receive TV.

  12. Rick.B

    sorry richard but the tv licensing website clearly states that if your tv is only used for watching dvd’s, pre-recorded videos or as a monitor for a games console you DO NOT need a tv licence. You also dont need a tv licence to use your computer for catch up services like 4OD, itv player etc.

  13. Phil Rodgers

    It’s not quite as clear as that. Section 363 (6) says the Secretary of State can make exemptions by regulation, and the regulations ( define a television receiver as “any apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving…any television programme service”, which implies that if you don’t install or use it for that purpose, then you don’t need a licence.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      It is section 368 of the of the Communications Act 2003 which gives the secretary of state the
      the power to define “television receiver” and “use” in relation to licensing.

      “Installed…for the purpose of receiving” is interesting – what if a company installed computers for the purposes of say accessing websites for work-purposes which users then used to watch a television programme service at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it was broadcast – would watching TV in that set of circumstances require a licence?

  14. David Vincent

    Presumably, funding of the BBC simply by “subscription” or advertising isn’t on the table. I believe the proposal is that funding will move from the licence fee to general taxation. As with other aspects of general taxation, we will pay for it whether we use it or not (eg those without children still pay for education, pacifists still pay for an army, the well pay for the NHS and those who stay on flat land pay for a mountain rescue service). I have no particular objection to this principle, but I suspect many of those who moan about the licence fee don’t want to pay anything at all towards the BBC and will continue to moan whatever happens.

  15. Andy

    Excellent points – the BBC can advertise and still exist. There is simply no need to charge £145 – it’s beyond outrageous.
    I don’t like the Conservatives being wishy washy about the BBC trust and this person said this blah blah – get rid of the fee once and for all. Let them work for a living like the rest of us.

  16. Andy

    I pray these 3 main parties understand how serious this issue is. Many people simply cannot afford £145
    “A TV licence is a fortnight’s income for a single mother on child support”
    I wish the 3 main parties would wake up and take note. There are 2 other parties who have promised to scrap the licence and they won’t do the country any good, but people feel strongly about this – just check out the forums and you will see thousands of people there

  17. sean mantis

    I find TVLA (the collectors/muggers) most objectionable,threating, intimidating & aggressive in their behaviour.Lets face it the BBC is not impartial nowadays,Nu-labour
    leaning for sure,the ‘Question time’ programmes adequately illastrate this with the usual left wing ‘rent a mob’ selected as an audience.Abolish this grossly unfair tax now.

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