The government is flirting with idea of abolishing Britain’s TV licence fee and instead funding the BBC through council tax, according to the Times. At the moment, each British household must pay £145.50 per year for the right to own a television, but ministers are now looking at alternatives, such as adding the cost on to other regular bills.
John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sports Committee, said: “There is a strong case for at least updating the licence fee. One simple way is to maintain it as a charge on every household but attach it to an existing bill, be it council tax or some other. It’s something that we would consider as a potential alternative.”
The suggestion comes as penalties for non-payment of the license fee increase four-fold to £4,000.
The fee generates £3.6 billion of revenue a year, with most of the money going towards funding the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Critics argue that it gives an unfair commercial advantage to the corporation and that everyone must pay it, even if they do not want to watch BBC programming.
The suggestion of adding the fee to council will likely generate controversy, however, as it will mean that all households will have to pay it, regardless of whether or not they own a television and consume BBC programming. It would also further increase the cost of what some people already see as an unreasonably high tax. One Conservative has already described the idea as a “non-starter”.
The Culture Committee are also looking at voluntary subscription as another option, but the BBC opposes this as it would likely lose significant funds.
The government has also committed itself to reviewing whether non-payment should be treated as a criminal offense. Under plans by Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, failure to pay the license fee would instead become a civil matter.
The BBC is concerned, however, that the reclassification could erode its funding, saying it could cost them up to £200 million a year.
A spokesman said: “The licence fee remains the most popular way to fund the BBC, but we know the committee is looking at a range of ideas, and we will read their report with interest once it is published later in the year.”