The BBC licence fee is “worse than the poll tax” with non-payment “almost certain” to be decriminalised, according to John Whittingdale, the chair of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee.
Conservative MP Whittingdale said the £145.50 charge was unsustainable in the long term, but added that he expected it to survive the current round of charter renewal negotiations due to begin in earnest next year.
Whittingdale commented: “It is a poll tax, it’s actually worse than the poll tax because with the poll tax, if you were on a very low income, you got a considerable subsidy, you only paid 20 per cent. With the licence fee there is no means-tested assistance whatsoever, it doesn’t matter how poor you are, you still have to pay £145.50 and go to prison if you don’t pay it, and a lot of people go to prison every year because they can’t afford the fines imposed on them.”
Whittingdale added he thought the licence fee would survive for the next 10 years, but needed modifying to take into account on-demand viewing via the BBC’s iPlayer. He suggested the BBC should switch to a stripped back licence fee with a reduced number of services, allowing people to choose to subscribe to pay channels if they choose.
“I don’t think there is any serious possibility of the licence fee going this charter renewal,” he said. “I think in the longer term we are potentially looking at reducing at least a proportion of the licence fee that is compulsory and introducing an element of choice.