25 Things the BBC doesn’t want you to know

see no evil speak no evil

  1. The British Broadcasting Corporation is an independent body (not a governmental entity, the clue is in the name), allowed to collect a tax. In many ways, it’s a bit like blood sucking vampires that are neither dead nor alive. The BBC has been living in this limbo zone, at the edge of private and public, since the General Strike of 1926.
  2. Watching live TV without a TV licence is, in the eye of the law, a crime (unlike other utility bills) and TV licence evaders will get a criminal record. It will not show up on basic criminal record checks thought, but it will impact the TV licence evader’s credit rating. And because the public has a right to know criminal matters, some local newspapers have decided to add “public shaming” to the list of consequences.
  3. Almost 70% of TV licence evaders are women.
  4. Students, people on benefit, disabled (other than blind), publicans and hotel owners all have to have a TV licence, which costs £145.50.
  5. The legally blind get a 50% discount but the deaf pay full price. Subtitles and in-vision signing are expensive.
  6. People over 75 also need a TV licence. This licence is “free” for them, but the BBC bills the Government for 3.9 million such “free” TV licence.
  7. Collection of the TV licence fee costs over £100 million each year. By multiplying the average fine by the number of convictions, it can be deduced that only 28 million, or a 1/4 of the cost, is recovered. But court records shows that less than 35% of TV licence fines are actually recovered. Therefore only 10 million, or 10% of the cost, is recovered.
  8. The government used to collect the fee, but in 1991, the BBC demanded to be made in charge of it. “TV licensing” is BBC’s alter ego. Since then, the BBC/ TV licensing made a partnership with Capita to do the ground work.
  9. There are 5.6 million UK address (out of 31 million) without a TV licence at any given time.
  10. 100,000 threatening letters are sent every every working day in order to chase hard core evaders. That’s more than 23 million per year.
  11. These letters were followed with around 3.8 million visits by TV licence officers.
  12. Each TV licence officer conduct on average 36 visits a day. Their performances are rewarded with incentives, which can amount to £1,000 per month, on top of their base salary of £14,000.
  13. When a TV Licence officer finds a house without a valid TV licence, he or she will take a statement from any responsible adult living at the address and the BBC will prosecute that person. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t own the TV, doesn’t watch it and or isn’t the one in charge of paying the household bills.
  14. If the BBC / Capita testify that there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been committed in a house, a magistrate can grant a search warrant to the TV licence officer.
  15. The BBC / Capita say they catch nearly 1,000 evaders every day.
  16. Approximately 180,000 people were prosecuted in 2012.
  17. Because more than 1 in 10 of all cases prosecuted in magistrate courts are TV licence fee related, even the Magistrate Association wants to decriminalise it.
  18. Fines for TV licence evasion are based on the criminal’s income and the length of the offence. The average evader is fined £170, but the BBC likes to stress that the maximum fine is £1,000. Court costs and a victim surcharge will be added on top but may not be recovered. Almost 2/3 of the fines for this particular crime are not recovered.
  19. Indirectly, the BBC can send people to jail because offenders who do not pay the fine imposed as punishment can be imprisoned. Sentences for non-payment of a TV licence fine are usually less than 28 days. In 2012, there were 50 people imprisoned for this crime. The average cost to incarcerate someone is £95 per day.
  20. The BBC’s “unique way of funding” is not unique. Denmark, Sweden and Norway operate a similar model.
  21. Recently, both Finland and Iceland have abolished their TV licence fee. Canada, United States, Australia, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Monaco and Spain don’t have TV licence fees either.
  22. Even though the TV licence fee has been frozen until 31st March 2017, the BBC’s charter will be up for renewal in December 2016.The negotiations over the corporation’s next royal charter will begin in May 2015, after the general election.
  23. In 2013, an ICM poll for The Sunday Telegraph found that 70% said the BBC licence fee should be abolished or cut.
  24. Tony Hall suggests replacing the TV licence fee with a universal household levy like in Germany (in other words, a flat tax to every home, regardless of TV habits). This would clearly penalise people who do not have a TV set, and it would force people who only watch TV on-demand (which currently doesn’t require a TV licence) to pay. It would not address the problem that both the licence and a levy are fundamentally unfair (taking no account of ability to pay) but it would cut the BBC’s costs as it would no longer need to detect and prosecute those who avoid buying a TV licence.
  25. A petition hosted on 38 Degrees, called “End the BBC Licence Fee” is trying to put a stop to these dodgy practices. The petition has been signed by more than 160,000 people across UK already. With coverage in nine local newspapers already achieved and a mention on Marketplace, an American Radio network.

If you believe, as a member of the public, you should have some say in the future of the fee (whether it should be scrapped, reduced, transferred to subscription, taken from general taxation, funded by advertising, or even kept the same) then you can sign the petition here and ensure that a debate in parliament occurs. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee


Revenues versus Viewing shares

As everybody knows, 100% of the TV viewers have to pay a tax that’s used to finance the BBC. However, statistics show that the BBC gets only a 1/3 share of Television audiences.

TV share
% Share of audience according to the Broadcasters Audience Research Board [1]

Given the number of channels now available, the BBC no longer commands the monopoly it once did, but still gets a huge almost-no-questions-asked fund due to its unique status. It could be argued that the licence fee gives an unfair advantage to one broadcaster.

If this is weighed up against the amount of revenue each company has to produce programming and win viewers, the remaining terrestrial channels are really ‘punching above their weight’.

  • Itv has a total external revenue of £2,590 million [2]
  • Channel 4’s total revenue is £908 million a year. [3]
  • UKTV (owning Dave, yesterday, etc) had £265 million in revenue.
  • In comparison, the BBC has a total income of £5.066 billion of which £3.726 billion comes from licence fees. [4]

[1] source: http://www.barb.co.uk/trendspotting/analysis/share-of-viewing-by-channel?_s=4

[2] http://www.itv.com/presscentre/press-releases/itv-full-year-results-year-ended-31-december-2014

[3] http://annualreport.channel4.com/downloads/C4_AR_2013_Financials.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/annualreport/2014/executive/finances/licence_fee.html

TV licence Fines explained

magis guide

Fines (in general) are based on one of three bands (A, B or C). Judges choose which one to apply according to the duration of the offence. In the case of TV licence evasion:

  • Up to 6 months without a TV licence: a “band A” fine will apply.
  • Over 6 months: the starting point will be “band B”.
Starting point Range Fine
Fine Band A 50% of relevant weekly income 25 – 75% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band B 100% of relevant weekly income 75 – 125% of relevant weekly income

TV licence evasion is a level 3 fine. That simply means the maximum fine is £1,000.

The offender’s financial circumstances are taken into account.  When an offender’s only source of income is state benefits, or £110 or less (income after deduction of tax and national insurance), the relevant weekly income is deemed to be £110 for the sake of the calculation of the fine.

If a Guilty Plea is made, the level of the reduction should reflect the stage at which it is made. (There is a presumption that the recommended reduction will be given unless there are good reasons for a lower amount.)

  • Guilty plea was entered at the first reasonable opportunity = 1/3 off
  • Where a trial date has been set = 1/4 off
  • Guilty plea entered at the ‘door of the court’ or after the trial has begun = 1/10 off

Court costs and a victim surcharge will be added on top, but they may not be recovered, depending on the financial situation of the criminal.

Example of fines recently given:

£37 fine, plus £120 costs and a £20 victim surcharge (reduced fine because of early guilty plea)

– £200 fine, plus £90 costs and a £20 victim surcharge

– £500 fine, plus £120 costs and a £50 victim surcharge

The average fine is £170 in England and Wales.

As the punishment does not include the obligation to buy a TV licence afterwards, the average fine turns out to be just £25 higher than the price of buying a TV licence in the first place. That’s not brilliant news since the paperwork and the work force required to try to claw back the fee plus the 25 quid is not free in the first place and requires precious court time that could be used for trials for real crimes. To make matter worse, court records shows that less than 35% of TV licence fines are actually recovered [1].

But the most upsetting element of TV licence enforcement is the criminal consequences. For the sake of this theoretical average gain of £25 quid, the BBC is happy to relentlessly chase people, press charges and even send them to prison. That’s right: offenders who don’t pay the fine imposed as punishment can be jailed. This is an all-round loose/loose situation: it costs the tax payer an average of £95 per day to keep one person behind bars and the BBC gains nothing, except perhaps fear and disgust at how insensitive it really is.

Here’s how the duration of prison sentences is calculated:

Maximum periods of imprisonment in default of payment
Amount not exceeding £200 7 days
Amount exceeding £200 but not exceeding £500 14 days
Amount exceeding £500 but not exceeding £1,000 28 days
Amount exceeding £1,000 but not exceeding £2,500 45 days
Amount exceeding £2,500 but not exceeding £5,000 3 months
Amount exceeding £5,000 but not exceeding £10,000 6 months
Amount exceeding £10,000 12 months

This is why the Magistrates’ Association has been calling for the decriminalisation of TV licence evasion for nearly 20 years. They feel that evaders are punished disproportionately. It’s a shame the BBC is turning a deaf ear.

Tony Hall, the current Director General (Chief Executive) of the BBC, said any change to the TV licence fee needs to be conscious of some £200 million expected to be lost.

Now that the elections are over, negotiations for the renewal of BBC’s charter have started. If you would like to have your say on this matter, there is petition, called End the BBC Licence Fee, hosted on 38 Degrees.


Source: Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines Sentencing Guidelines


[1] Chart B.1 – Proportion of fine amount owed collected within a year for the top ten most commonly occurring offence types in the matched data, Criminal Court Statistics Quarterly, England and Wales, July to September 2014

A few words of thanks

In chronological order:

  • To my friends who didn’t support my view: you forced me to read more and to shout louder.
  • 38 degree for hosting the petition and helping me share it.
  • The first thousand people who signed the petition and made it all possible.
  • Simon Beckwith, with whom I’ve been bouncing ideas about with since almost day 1.
  • My husband, who tirelessly corrects my texts and did not, once, say “can we discuss something else?”.
  • Cally Jenkins, at MK News, for her flair that this would be a big story.
  • Alex, at “Campaign By You” for the help with 38 Degrees’s tool.
  • Various blogs that took upon themselves to share the petition.
  • Ginny Ware, from the Herald Express, for the long and quick article. It made a huge impact.
  • Roger Kasper at the Kent and Sussex Courier, for being the first national coverage.
  • Ryszard Piecuch at PolNews for the early support and for helping me get a link with the Polish community.
  • Mateusz Graboń at Emito.net, for getting into the spirit.
  • Jack Ash, at MK News for not writing one, but 3 articles on the petition and publishing my “Whittingdale” article.
  • Adriana Chodakowska at Londynek.net for helping me crack London a little.
  • Andy Carswell, at Bucks Free Press, for spreading the petition further afield.
  • Richard Booth, at the Express and Echo, for responding so quickly at the second round of press release. This kind of enthusiasm motivates.
  • Maryam Qaiser at the Gloucester Citizen, for the lovely article and the friendly personality.
  • Oscar Conrad at Kensignton and Chelsea Times for the support in the Royal borough and the 2 articles.
  • Stephen Beard, from Marketplace, for wanting to talk about the petition abroad.
  • Aly Walsh at the Derby Telegraph
  • Zena Hawley at Ashbourne News Telegraph
  • Bob and Donna at Torbay Times
  • The Twitter powerhouse calling himself “BantheBBC” for bouncing ideas with me and spreading the word amongst his followers.
  • Jane Bradley at The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday
  • Kapil Summan at Scottish Legal News
  • Duncan Edelsten for writting a press release for the Scottish newspapers
  • Jonathan Watson at The Courier (Scotland)
  • Marc McLean at Clydebank Post
  • Michael Develin at Tyrone Constitution
  • Kevin Mullan at the Londonderry Sentinel
  • Daniel Zylbersztajn at Taz (Germany)
  • Katherine Rushton at the Daily Mail
  • Andrew Nowell at Wigan Today
  • Nicholas McHale at Now East Durham
  • David Leask at The Herald EveningTimes
  • Adrian Darbyshire at IOM Today
  • Tom Mack at Leicester Mercury

Links to articles:






































HOT POTATO: Who’s to blame for the TV licence fee?

Everybody knows that we need a TV licence in order to watch or record TV as it’s being broadcast. But who do we have to blame for it: the BBC, or the government?

We asked them both this very question. Here’s what they had to say.

Nicola Stewart, of the BBC Complaints desk, wrote: “In regards to TV licensing, your unhappiness on the general premise of a compulsory TV Licence should be addressed to your Member of Parliament or elected representative, and/or to the Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport as the UK Government oversees this area of law. The TV Licence is not a BBC requirement but a UK Government requirement and the Government’s legislation does not allow for non-payment or refunds/reductions in light of unhappiness with BBC actions, output or spending decisions.”

When Meera Joti, of the Ministerial Support Team, wrote: “The interpretation and application of the legislation on TV Licensing are the responsibility of the BBC which operates independently of the Government. It would not be appropriate for the Department to comment on matters which are, rightly, independent of the Government. I hope that this is helpful in clarifying the Government’s position on this matter.”

Surely, both statements can’t be true at the same time! As annoying as it is to be given the run around, it’s not surprising though:  nobody wants to be caught holding the licence fee ‘hot potato’ and be the villain that holds British TV viewers to ransom.

But not being the kind to give up so easily, I started by reading the Official TV licensing website (a trade mark of the BBC [1]). There, it proclaims: “The Government sets the level of the licence fee. In January 2007 the licence fee was agreed for a six-year period with the amount being approved each year by Parliament.”[2] This mirrors the reply from the BBC’s complaint desk. They obviously all received the same blurb and stick to it.


Now, me not being afraid of a little bit of legal mumbo jumbo, I tackled the task of reading the BBC’s Charter and the associated Agreement. Let me tell you it was a Snooze Fest.  If you cut all the fluff (and there was a lot of it!), the BBC’s Charter says “a TV licence is issued under section 364 of the Communications Act 2003”.

So here’s the first glimmer of truth: the BBC is authorised, but not required to collect the TV licence fee by the government.

To cut a long story short, the Communication Act says the BBC has been given a broad freedom:

Licence […] may be issued by the BBC subject to such restrictions and conditions as the BBC think fit

To make matters worse, the BBC decided to cut the government out of the equation in 1991: it took over collection and enforcement of the television licence fee from the Home Office.[3] Instead, the BBC hired a partner, called Capita, for this dirty work.

Another thing the BBC is guilty of is letting you believe that people over 75 are given a free television licence. These “free” licences are not handed out by the BBC’s kind heart though. They are funded from general taxation as part of the Government’s social policy. The BBC bills the government every year for them.

When the House of Lords was given an opportunity to analyse the TV licence situation in 2006, it wrote in its report: “Parliament is not given any opportunity (beyond hearing a Government statement) to scrutinise the licence fee formula agreed by the BBC and the DCMS. We believe this is wrong.”[…] “The National Audit Office should be involved in scrutinising the licence fee bid. Its report should be published in full. This would mean that for the first time the public and Parliament would have the information necessary to make an independent and informed judgement on the BBC’s plans.”[4]

So when the BBC says “The TV Licence is not a BBC requirement but a UK Government requirement and the Government’s legislation does not allow for non-payment or refunds/reductions”, it’s complete poppycock.

When the House of Lords expressed their concerns regarding the public’s acceptance of the license fee, Michael Grade, chairman of the BBC from 2004 to 2006, said “[…] there is very, very little resistance to the current levels and the projected levels”.  Tony Hall the current Director General (Chief Executive) of the BBC also shares this view “They [the Commons culture, media and sport committee] are saying that the licence fee is not dead […] I think it will go beyond that but they said 10 years.”[5]

Of these assertions, I’m not so sure. People have taken into their own hands to show that Michael Grade’s research and Tony Hall’s beliefs are a little off the mark. A petition, called “End the BBC Licence Fee”, hosted on 38 Degrees, has gathered over 160,000 signatures and is still open. The BBC’s charter will be up for renewal in December 2016. The negotiations over the corporation’s next royal charter have already started. If you believe as a licence payer you should have some say in the future of the fee (whether it should be scrapped, reduced, transferred to subscription, taken from general taxation, funded by advertising, or even kept the same) then you can sign the petition here and ensure that a debate in parliament occurs.

Petition : https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee

[1] http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/cs/media-centre/news/view.app?id=1369781862928

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/insidethebbc/whoweare/licencefee

[3] TV licence Enforcement Review, 2015

[4] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldselect/ldbbc/128/12805.htm

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/02/bbc-licence-fee-10-years-director-general-tony-hall

[6] extrapolation from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/251272/prison-costs-summary-12-13.pdf