The TV licence fee, which funds the BBC, continues to be a hot topic with the outgoing BBC Director-General, Tony Hall, saying it might be a good idea to turn the licence fee into a household bill, possibly as part of the council tax.
Lord Tony Hall, who is stepping down from the position of BBC Director-General after seven years, gave an exit interview to The Media Show on BBC Radio 4, where he also spoke about the over-75s licence fee controversy (“it’s an absolutely fair solution”), the future of the BBC with Netflix breathing down its neck, and the role of BBC iPlayer in this new world.
Hall is stepping down at a time where the BBC licence fee and its funding are under constant review – last year, Boris Johnson ordered a review of the BBC licence fee, with its cancellation or de-criminalisation on the table.
Currently, the TV licence is a tax used to fund the BBC’s TV, radio channels and its website. The fee is collected by the BBC, mainly through outsourced companies, and failure to pay can incur penalties of up to £1,000 and prosecution. It currently stands at £157.50/year. (Check here whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee)
Earlier this month, the licence fee exemption for over-75s was cancelled (after a postponement due to the pandemic), and 3.7 million people over the age of 75 had to start paying the fee. The only ones who are still exempt, are those who receive pension credit.
When the government decided to phase out the licence fee subsidies, it tasked the BBC with either paying for this exemption from their regular budget, or decide on a new scheme. “This is something which a majority conservative government put on the BBC”, Lord Hall emphasized.
“I say we’ve come to a solution which is an absolutely fair solution”, he said. “Those who cannot afford to pay for the licence fee don’t have to pay for it, if you are on pension credit, and those who can afford to pay are paying for it. It’s a fair way.”
But some say the TV Licence fee should be abolished, with the BBC possibly turning into a subscription service.
Lord Hall says the fee must remain mandatory for everyone – but the way it’s collected can change. “I think finding ways in which the licence fee can be charged, maybe progressively, so those who can afford to pay more and those who can’t afford to pay less, should be looked at.
“Should it be collected in a way on household bills, council tax bills, to cut down the cost? All these things should be looked at. If you want to have something good, a public service available to all, then it has to be funded by all, not by subscription or behind some paywall.”
Lord Hall also talked about the BBC’s competition against the US giants such as Netflix and Disney. He said that with BBC iPlayer now keeping programmes on for 12 months, it is transitioning from being a catch-up service, to being a destination in its own right.
“The arrival of Netflix and Disney are good things for me as a consumer, but there’s a sense that ‘it’s all over’ for public broadcasters. Not so!
“There’s a role – you saw that during the COVID-19 crisis – bringing people together around news, looking for new talent, there’s a big role for the public service broadcasters going forward.”