Ministers are preparing to scrap the BBC television licence fee.


A Government White Paper laid out by Nadine Dorries on Thursday (28th April) says that, since the last review less than a decade ago, viewing habits have shifted and there are “clear challenges on the horizon to the sustainability of the licence fee.”

The Conservatives have previously indicated they would scrap the BBC licence fee at the next opportunity – if they are still in government.

Unveiling a £2bn budget cut for the public broadcaster in January 2022, Ms Dorries said that this year’s licence fee announcement “will be the last”.

The annual payment is expected to be kept at the current rate of £159 until April 2024.

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But what exactly has Dorries said and what could replace the BBC licence fee?

Read on for everything you need to know about BBC licence fee changes.

Will the BBC licence fee be abolished?

Nadine Dorries
Nadine Dorries PA Wire

The fee received an extension until 31 December 2027 but Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries warned that announcement “will be the last”.

She tweeted in January: “The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors are over.

"Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content."

And now the government has published its white paper which, while stopping short of abolishing the fee, suggests it will eventually be axed.

As well as confirming controversial plans to sell off Channel 4, the white paper, which was published on Thursday (28th April), outlined plans to conduct a review of the BBC’s funding model.

Why is the BBC licence fee being abolished?

“Technology has revolutionised how, when, and where audiences can access and watch content,” the white paper said. “An increasing number of households are choosing not to hold a TV licence, as fewer people choose to watch live TV or other activities that require a TV licence.

“Should this trend continue as expected there are clear challenges on the horizon to the sustainability of the licence fee.”

Dorries underlined the message of the white paper in a podcast by The Spectator magazine, in which she said the licence fee was “completely outdated”.

“We are going to very soon announce that we are going to be looking very seriously about how we fund the BBC," she told the publication.

“We are ready to implement a new way of funding the BBC.

“We’re going to be looking at how Ofcom hold the BBC to account and then very shortly after that we will be announcing other measures that we are going to put into place to start looking at how the BBC will be funded in the future so that we are well in time to have that in place for the Charter renewal.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson coronavirus briefing
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of targeting the licence fee in a bid to gain popularity Getty

However, there has been fury at the Tory announcement, with Lucy Powell, Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary, saying that Boris Johnson and Dorries appear “hell bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism”.

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat Culture spokesman, spoke out against the two-year freeze on the fee, claiming it would amount to a “stealth cut of almost £2bn” and threaten services.

“The government must stop this reckless ideological crusade and back off our BBC,” he added.

Meanwhile, former BBC Chairman Michael Grade said on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that Dorries has “fired the starting pistol” on the TV licence fee debate.

He added: “£159 a year may not be a lot of money to Gary Lineker, or any of the BBC executives and the commentators, but it’s a heck of a lot of money for the majority of people in this country.”

What's more, Boris Johnson has been accused by some of targeting the BBC licence fee in a bid to gain popularity as he faces calls to resign following the ‘partygate’ scandal.

Powell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Let’s not pretend that this is anything other than it is, which is a pretty obvious dead cat strategy from the Government to distract from the totally disastrous leadership context that the Prime Minister is facing at the moment. So they want to have an argument about the BBC instead.”

She said of the Mail on Sunday story: “You have to draw your own conclusions about the timing and the placement of that piece.”

Meanwhile, former BBC Executive Professor Tim Luckhurst told LBC: "I don't question for a second the extent to which there have always been some tensions between the BBC and the current Conservative Party.

"That's an established reality. But equally it is absolutely plain that this is about the Prime Minister throwing red meat to the backbenches at a time when he himself is in enormous political difficulty for reasons which I have to say have a great deal more to do with Boris Johnson's own conduct than they have to do with the BBC or any other organisation has done. I don't think it's a great way to make a decision, I really don't."

What could replace the BBC licence fee?

Dorries has indicated that she wants to find a new funding model for the BBC after the current licence fee funding deal ends in 2027.

While it’s not yet clear what this new model will look like, one option could be a subscription model.

Other potential options could include government funding, taxing streaming platforms such as Netflix, or a German-style charge that would apply to all households rather than just those that watch live TV.

How much does the BBC licence fee cost and what does it pay for?

BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer

The 2021 TV licence fee changed to £159 for a standard colour TV licence and £53.50 for a black and white licence.

This was an increase of £1.50 for colour and 50p for black and white.

The annual payment is set by the government.

Money raised from the licence fee pays for BBC shows and services, including TV, iPlayer, radio, podcasts, the BBC website, and other apps and online services like Bitesize and CBeebies.

Who is exempt from paying the TV licence fee?

TV licences for the over-75s were free from November 2000 until July 2020. However, this was scrapped, with only those who receive pension credit now exempt from paying the fee.

Care home residents may qualify for a £7.50 discount, while blind or severely sight impaired people are entitled to a 50% reduction on a licence fee.

The rule is that if you watch or record live television, you must have a TV licence.

However, you don’t need a TV licence if you only watch on demand programmes on DVD or Blu-ray, or stream them from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV, Hulu, YouTube or similar platforms, unless they stream live TV.

In addition, you don’t need a TV licence to watch content on catch-up TV services such as ITV Hub, My5, All 4, with the exception of BBC’s iPlayer, for which you do need a TV licence.


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