Could your TV be switched off if you don’t pay the licence fee?

Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of Virgin Media, says it would be possible – but says it’s not up to him to decide if it’s a good idea

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Could your TV be switched off if you don’t pay the licence fee?
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BBC bosses worried about the non payment of the TV licence fee are understood to have a wizard wheeze up their sleeves – simply get your TV provider to turn your telly off.

And today a leading TV executive said it would be possible to stop people watching their favourite shows like Sherlock (pictured) and Doctor Who without paying the levy if legislation were passed allowing this.

Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of cable provider Virgin Media said the technology exists to implement the sanction, despite alleged fears within the BBC that a new generation of smart TV’s would make this impossible.

“If you received [your TV] through a set top box you could [have it switched off]," Mockridge said at a lunch hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild.

Some figures within the BBC are thought to believe that modern smart sets are designed to preclude this possibility - but according to Mockridge this is untrue. 

However Mockridge insisted that he was simply addressing the question of whether the technology made this possible and not whether he thought it was a good idea.

“It’s about whether society wants to make that judgement,” he said, adding that he was neither supporting or not supporting the idea.

Whatever happens, the possibility of the BBC being granted permission to authorise the forced removal of TV signals for non-payers has returned to the agenda after it emerged that plans to decriminalise the non-payment of the TV licence fee are being considered by government departments.

The proposed move, which is designed to ease pressure on the courts, is opposed by senior BBC managers who believe it will lead to more people not paying the fee.

Last week the BBC’s director of strategy and digital James Purnell said it would be a "huge risk" to push through such legislation.

He was referring to reports that a cross-party group of MPs is pushing for a change in the law to make non-payment a civil offence. The culture secretary Maria Miller has signalled she is prepared to put the idea on the table during talks about renewing the BBC's charter.

BBC director general Tony Hall has also said that he wants the licence fee extended to include the estimated 500,000 UK homes where viewers do not have a TV set but watch BBC programmes on the iPlayer.

The move would enable the BBC to start charging the estimated 500,000 UK households which only consume on-demand TV content, rather than watching programmes live.