MPs are set to debate whether to abolish the TV licence fee, used to subsidise the BBC, after a petition calling for it to be axed passed the 100,000 signatures mark.
The petition calls for the mandatory fee of £145.50 per household per year to be ditched, arguing that it is too expensive. By law, every household capable of viewing live content must pay the TV licence, used to subsidise the state broadcaster, whether they access BBC content or not. Failure to pay is a criminal offence.
But even if the idea gains support among MPs during the debate, scheduled to take place on 8 May, fee payers are unlikely to be let off the hook for at least another decade as the state broadcaster’s charter, which sets the terms for the fee for a ten-yearly basis, has only just been renewed.
In an official response to the petition, a government spokesman said: “Throughout the Charter Review, the Government considered the question of funding the BBC’s services, and decided that the licence fee system will be maintained for the coming Charter period.
“In maintaining the licence fee model, the government is clear that the licence fee remains a licence to watch or receive television programmes, and is not a fee for BBC services – although licence fee revenue is used to fund the BBC and other public service objectives.”
In further bad news for British households, the fee, which has been frozen since 2010, is set to rise “with inflation for the next five years” the spokesman said. They added: “The government also intends to help those on lower incomes by making the licence fee easier to pay through proposals to provide more flexible payment plans.”
Pensioners will continue to see the cost of their fee subsidised by the taxpayer.
Nonetheless, campaigners for the abolition of the fee have welcomed the debate as a way of gauging support within the Commons for an end to the fee.
Andrew Allison, head of campaigns for The Freedom Association which runs the ‘Axe the TV Tax’ campaign, told Breitbart London: “Although a debate in Parliament on the future of the licence fee is welcome as it keeps the issue alive, it won’t make any practical difference. The Government has already agreed a new Royal Charter with the BBC.
“What will be interesting, though, is to find out how many of the current crop of MPs are opposed to it. We hope to work with them to make sure at the end of this Charter period, the telly tax becomes a relic of the past.”
Support for dropping the fee is growing among the public as people are increasingly opting for subscription viewing packages – or are turning off their sets entirely.
A 2016 Ofcom study of British viewing habits found that the average amount of time spent watching tv daily dropped by 11 per cent between 2010 and 2015, driven mostly by young people turning off. While the viewing habits of those aged 65+ remained largely unchanged, children and those in the 16-24 age range showed a reduction of over a quarter in their average viewing time.
In 2015/16 the BBC gained £3.74 billion from licence fee payments.