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BBC receptive to household bill licence fee shift

The BBC is open to the idea of replacing its licence fee funding model with a household bill-linked scheme, but has warned that proposals to decriminalise non-payment to the existing mechanism will result in cuts to programming.

In its submission to a government consultation on the plans that began earlier this year, the BBC said that it wanted to keep the current court-enforced licence system in place for the time being.

However, it added that it would be open to the idea of a funding model “linked directly to an existing common household bill” such as electricity or council tax, as is the case in other European countries. The broadcaster also suggested broadband bills as another method of payment as the UK progresses towards universal access.

“This would be a significant change for the UK and we are not, at this stage, advocating it. It does however raise an interesting question as to whether the current system could be made much simpler, more efficient and more automated. We are open to exploring this further.”

The current system means that anyone who watches live TV or uses the BBC iPlayer must pay the £157.50 ($195) a year, which generates £3.69bn annually for the organisation. Should they fail to do so, they are guilty of a criminal offence, which can result in a fine up to £1,000, with failure to pay potentially leading to a criminal conviction and prison sentence.

The pubcaster warned that UK government proposals to decriminalise the non-payment of the licence fee could cost the British pubcaster more than £1bn ($1.2bn) over five years and lead to “significant cuts” to programmes and services.

The BBC believes that licence fee evasion would almost double to around 10% when people realised non-payment was no longer a criminal offence and suggested that creating a new system, where non-payment was enforced as a civil debt instead, would leave it with an initial cost of around £300m.

This would “reduce substantially the BBC’s investment in the UK’s creative economy across the whole UK.”

The consultation on decriminalisation of the licence fee, which closes today, was launched by former UK culture secretary Nicky Morgan two months ago, with the government raising concerns that the punishment at present is “unfair and disproportionate”.

Tags: BBC, licence fee