Agents working on behalf of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to collect TV Licence Fees are encouraged to use ruthless methods by a system of aggressive financial incentives, suggest secret recordings.
An undercover reporter posing as a jobseeker for the Daily Mail broke the story after recording interviewing managers at Capita, the outsourcing firm paid £59 million a year to collect the £145.50-a-year licence fee on behalf of the BBC.
Caught on tape, Capita area manager Ian Doyle made it clear to his faux interviewee that maximising that revenue remains a primary concern.
“We will drive you as hard as we can to get as much as we can out of you because we’re greedy,” he told the reporter. “Cash, debit, credit card, we’ll take anything. I tell people I’ll take shirt buttons.”
Doyle explained that Capita was “looking to get 28 licence sales per week from each officer. As soon as you hit that magic 28, there’s a bonus – a commission scheme.”
This scheme could be worth “another thousand, fifteen hundred pounds a month” to agents, who are encouraged to use underhanded methods to trick householders into incriminating themselves through informal chats and take no notice of “sob stories”.
“You can only get the sale with a conviction statement so basically you’ve got to take 28 conviction statements before you can start hitting extra money,” he said. “The more you get, you earn more money. That’s all it is.”
The Daily Mail noted that a number of individuals pursued by the agents have been vulnerable. One notable example was that of an RAF veteran, who, after an agent forced entry into his home, was hauled before magistrates for missing a payment despite having a terminal brain tumour, spinal tumours, and early onset dementia.
Another individual staying at a woman’s refuge was also taken to court because her room’s previous resident had left a television set behind. She was in the refuge for just six days.
Non-payment of the licence fee can result in a criminal record, a fine of up to £1,000, and even imprisonment. All in all, 38 people were locked up for non-payment in 2015, a majority of whom were women.
Responding to the recordings, an unnamed BBC spokesman said the corporation was “very disappointed by the conduct of Capita’s interviewing managers in this particular case which is not in line with the high standards we expect and does not reflect the policies in place. We have asked Capita to investigate urgently and ensure swift and appropriate action is taken.”
The licence fee is a “Television Tax” levied on anyone who watches broadcast programming live – whether on a television set, computer, games console, or other device – or BBC programming on catch-up services such as iPlayer.
Former anchor Jeremy Paxman – despite receiving a reported salary of £1 million from the corporation at the height of his earning power – has publicly confessed that “the idea of a tax on the ownership of a television belongs to the 50s”. He asked: “Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil?”
The BBC takes in £3.7 billion from the licence fee a year.