BBC licence fee could be replaced by means-tested ‘household tax’

The BBC licence fee could be replace by a means-tested ‘household tax’, the corporation’s outgoing director-general has suggested. 

Lord Tony Hall of Birkenhead, who is set to step down, said a household tax, where the rich pay more, might make more sense than the current TV licence system. 

He also suggested that a potential annual levy could be collected alongside existing household bills such as council tax or broadband. 

This means the BBC would have to spend less money on tracking down evaders.

The licence fee has been a subject of discussion in recent months, with increasingly vocal opponents calling for its scrapping. 

Its current form will continue until 2027, but the government has indicated a new system may be required after that. 

It comes as the BBC is under increasing fire:  

  • More than 100,000 people have signed the MailOnline petition urging the BBC to reverse its censorship of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms;
  • BBC Newsnight editor Katie Razzall shared her embarrassment at being appointed as a white woman to chair a session on ‘racism in TV newsrooms’;
  • Roger Moore, the former head of BBC News, compared the top of the corporation to the comedy spoof W1A and said that too many of the BBC’s big decisions are made in London by ‘white liberals’; 
  • Jamaica’s foreign minister slammed the BBC over a Famalam sketch showing Caribbean men leering at women and high on cannabis.

In his final interview before he leaves next month, Lord Hall also admitted the BBC responded ‘too slowly’ in the equal pay row sparked by Carrie Gracie

Some critics have favoured a Netflix-style subscription service, where people can opt-in or out of BBC services. 

Two Conservative backbenchers have even drafted private member’s bills calling for the BBC to be privatised and face more stringent oversight of its impartiality, after a series of recent controversies. 

There are also calls for non-payment of the licence fee to be decriminalised. 

Suggesting his own alternative in his exit interview with The Media Show on Radio 4, Lord Hall said: ‘I think finding ways in which the licence fee can be charged 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?’

He added: ‘If you want to have something good, a public service available to all, then that has to be funded by all, not by subscription or behind some paywall.’

In the interview, Lord Hall revealed that he had considered quitting when the Government offloaded the responsibility for free TV licences for the over-75s.

In his final interview before he leaves next month, Lord Hall also admitted the BBC responded ‘too slowly’ in the equal pay row sparked by Carrie Gracie.

The deal with the Government which saw the corporation taking on responsibility for free licences for over-75s is regarded by many as Lord Hall’s biggest blunder during his time in charge.

Tim Davie

Lord Hall

Incoming and outgoing BBC Director General: Former Marketing Executive Tim Davie, left, takes over the BBC next week from Lord Hall. Mr Davie is understood to have intervened to insist that BBC bosses play some form of Rule Britannia at the Proms

Speaking on Radio 4’s The Media Show, he described the attempts by Government to get the BBC to handle the issue as ‘nuclear’, as he was forced to choose between charging pensioners the licence fee and making huge cuts to services.

‘I thought about resigning, but at that moment I thought you’ve got to get in there and try to stop this or ameliorate what they are proposing to do,’ he told the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan. 

While it became clear there was no possibility of stopping the move, there were concessions and the BBC had secured its charter for 11 years.

Only over-75s who receive pension credit are now exempt from the annual £157.50 fee.

Lord Hall admitted to mistakes over the equal pay row, which began when then China editor Miss Gracie – who announced on Tuesday she has left the BBC after 33 years – pressed for a salary increase to bring her in line with male colleagues doing comparable jobs.

‘I think the organisation responded too slowly,’ he said. ‘We ended up in the right place.’

He was also questioned about his handling of the row over the use of the N-word in a news report. 

He denied he apologised for the use of the word only after board members lobbied him to do so because of potential mass resignations from ethnic minority staff members.

Lord Hall also revealed that four women would appear in the top ten of next month’s annual BBC ‘rich list’, compared to three last year. 

The gender split of BBC stars earning more than £150,000 will now be 55 per cent male, 45 per cent female, an improvement on a 60-40 split last year.

Tim Davie, a former head of BBC Studios, the commercial arm, takes over as director-general on Monday.