There never was a huge crisis requiring the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole – and here is the proof

Update: post now includes FOI results RFI20171125 sent by the BBC itself.

In 2016, a media frenzy was generated out of the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole.


But was there any proof of money haemorrhaging through this open wound?


The number of TV licence is always increasing and BBC’s income has not changed much, which makes sense since the fee was frozen.


Number of TV licence in force Income officially generated by the TV licence
2016-2017 25. 8m £3,787m*  (an increase of £44m on the year before)
2015-2016 25. 6m £3,743m*
2014-2015 25.5m £3,735m*
2013-2014 25.42m £3.7bn*
2012-2013 25.34m £3.7bn* (up £6.7m from the previous year)
2011-2012 25.23m £3.7bn* (up £19.1m from the previous year)
2010-2011 25.1m £3.7bn* (up £99million from the previous year)


*None of these number adds up because a colour TV licence costs £ £145.50 and a number of black and white ones (at £49) are still around – more than 8,000 in 2016 and exactly 9,813 in 2015.


Over the past 7 years the data shows a steady growth in TV licence numbers this would not support the claim that the existence of the so-called loophole was depriving the BBC of fee payers and therefore income.


TV licensing attributes this constant growth to 3 factors, in this order:

  • the continuing popularity of live TV (which is pure poppycock [1])
  • the increasing number of homes across the UK[2]
  • the change in law which requires a licence for BBC programmes on iPlayer[3]


In search of evidence to support the desperation to shut down the so-called loophole, we looked into TV licensing’s enforcement methods and spending. This revealed that the cost of postage has recently increased while the cost for call centre, officers and detection services has dropped massively. It would suggest that TV licensing made the tactical choice to nearly half the level of doorstep enforcement.


Costs Reminder letter, information campaigns Postage Call centres, officers, detection and services
2016-2017 £14.9m £13.6m £46.2m
2015-2016 £15.8m £10.3m £83.8m
2014-2015 £14.1m £10.8m £71.7m
2013-2014 £15.2m £10.8m £71.6m
2012-2013 £14m £12.2m £83m
2011-2012 £13.9M £9.5M £95m
2010-2011 £16.6m £8.7m £92.7m


Number of visits
2016-2017 3.1m
2015-2016 3.3m
2014-2015 3.9m







Number of letters sent
2016-2017 55.1m
2015-2016 51.8m
2014-2015 51.5m









Number of people caught by TV licensing officers
2016-2017 256,600 700/day
2015-2016 ‘almost 300k’ +800/day
2014-2015 344,099
2013-2014 328,000








This idea that TV licensing is moving away from the aggressive and apparently costly doorstep enforcement approach may be supported by the drop in the number of prosecutions in 2016.


TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal Per Capita, 2016
Countries England Scotland Wales N. Ireland TOTAL
2016 159,573 7,939 12,055 5,028 184,595
2015 173,966 4,863 15,383 5,905 200,117
2014 173,044 13,518 12,536 4,905 204,003


Even though the number of prosecution for TV licence offences has dropped, ‘15,522 less prosecutions’ is very little when put in perspective with the number of TV licence in force. When multiplied by the average fine,


Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland
Average Fine £188 £96 £123  £86


we get a potential gain of £3.175m (£2.7m in England, £400k in Wales and £75k in N. Ireland.)


Considering that only 1/3 of fines are usually recovered this would generate realistically £1.05m.


Based on based on 2015-2016 expenditure, it’s easy to realise that TV licensing made the right choice by not investing a further £37.6M in call centres, officers, detection and services as it appears to generate little or no effect, thus proving the futility of the whole criminal enforcement process for the TV licence. It feels like pulling a rotten tooth out of a dead horse’s head.


The final conclusion is that there never was a huge crisis requiring the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole, the numbers just don’t add up. We were taken for a ride. Again.


[1]  and

[2] The UK housing market comprises 28.1 million residential properties in 2014. A further 152,440 houses were built in the financial year ending in 2015.

[3] The law changed on 1 September 2016.


4 thoughts on “There never was a huge crisis requiring the closure of the so-called TV licence loophole – and here is the proof

  1. Including a service consumers already pay for, like Netflix, would cause massive backlash, IMHO, very little of what is on TV is actually “LIVE” even so called “LIVE EVENTS” have up to a 30 second delay. To me live is live with no delay, even so I will not watch so called “LIVE TV” or any event that is broadcast at a set time of day. If they try and include the likes of Netflix in that bracket then I will find other ways of watching what I want.
    If they want to include the likes of NON BBC Channels in their Scam, apart from as shown at a set time, then all other channels better get their reasonable cut of the license fee, the BBC should go license free and show adverts, there are any number of gullible producers willing to pay to advertise their rubbish, but the BBC is not entirely advert free, you get adverts for shows on later, or on other BBC channels. as wel as their programme guide offering.


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