A Westminster Hall debate on E-petition 170931 relating to the TV Licence fee is scheduled for Monday 20 November 2017. The Member leading the debate is Helen Jones MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee.Jump to full report >>
Under the Communications Act 2003, everyone in the UK who watches or records television programmes as they are broadcast, as well as anyone watching or downloading BBC content on iPlayer, must be covered by a valid TV licence.
The 2003 Act is supported by the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations (SI 2004/692) (as amended). The Regulations set out the various types of television licence, the criteria for obtaining them, the fees payable, and the different concessions available (including for people who are blind, people who are aged over 74 years, and people who live in residential care). The TV Licensing website gives further information on these areas.
A standard colour TV licence costs £147. Various payment options are available.
The maximum fine for not having a licence is £1,000.
Petition calling for the abolition of the licence fee
A petition calling for the television licence fee to be abolished received 125,958 signatures. The petition closed on 3 May 2017. It was due to be debated in Parliament on 8 May 2017 but this was postponed because of the General Election. The petition will now be debated on Monday 20 November 2017.
In response to the petition, the Government has said:
“A licence is required in order to watch all live or nearly-live television content on any device in the UK or to stream or download any programmes in an on-demand programme service provided by the BBC”.
Alternatives to the licence fee
In February 2015, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on the future of the BBC. Chapter 6 looked at the funding of the BBC and the future of the licence fee. This began by noting that some people see the licence fee as “anachronistic given the changes in communications and media technology and services over the last decade” and that some “dislike paying for a service they use seldom or not at all”.
According to the Committee, the advantages of the licence fee are as follows:
The disadvantages are:
Alternative mechanisms for funding the BBC include advertising and sponsorship, subscription, general taxation, or a mix of some or all of these. Public broadcasters in other countries are funded by a combination of licence fee or taxation and advertising (e.g. France, Germany and the Netherlands). The Committee looked at the alternatives before concluding:
There currently appears to be no better alternative for funding the BBC in the near term other than a hypothecated tax or the licence fee. However, the principle of the licence fee in its current form is becoming harder and harder to sustain given changes in communications and media technology and services, and changing audience needs and behaviours. Given this is the case, we do not see a long-term future for the licence fee in its current form…
We conclude that a degree of subscription could be a possibility in the future if the BBC moved to a more personalised service and this could be in accordance with Lord Hall’s vision for personalisation of BBC content consumption. However, careful thought would need to be given as to what content should remain universally available and free-to-air, and how this should be funded, protected from inappropriate influence and delivered to the public...
 Communications Act 2003 s363(4)
 Ibid, p70, 71
 Ibid, p71
 Ibid, p76
Commons Debate packs CDP-2017-0172
Authors: John Woodhouse; Sarah Pepin