BBC considers broadband levy as replacement for licence fee

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

In response to Government proposals to decriminalise those who don't pay the licence fee, the BBC has said that the broadcaster's funding could eventually be replaced by a monthly levy on broadband connections.

The public broadcaster said it is willing to consider copying other European countries who have a funding model “linked directly to an existing common household bill” such as an internet connection, council tax, or electricity supply.

The consultation on the matter ends on Wednesday. The BBC said in its submission: “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 BBC has also warned that the initial cost of creating a new system where non-payment is enforced as a civil debt – similar to a utility bill – would be almost £300m. Around 130,000 people were prosecuted in 2018 for non-payment of the licence fee. 

The public service broadcaster argued strongly that the existing criminal sanctions for non-payment should remain in force until the BBC’s royal charter is renewed in 2027, saying that magistrates had the flexibility to impose appropriate fines that take into account an individual’s circumstances.

In a statement, the corporation said: “The BBC is a universal service – one to which everyone contributes and everyone receives something in return.

“Any system based on a universal contribution must have a sufficient deterrent and sanction to ensure that principle holds up and the system is fair to those who do pay, as well as those who don’t.”

The former culture secretary Nicky Morgan launched the consultation on decriminalisation two months ago, shortly after the Government stopped ministers from appearing on major political programmes during the election.