Bill Carmichael: Licence loophole shows TV tax has had its day

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Psst! Want a hot tip that can save you money? I can let you in on the secret if you promise not to tell anyone else.

This cash-saving trick could not be simpler – just don’t pay your TV licence and voila! – you’ve saved yourself £145.50 a year by doing nothing.

Now I am not suggesting that you break the law. If you watch the BBC or any other channel on a television, or shows that are broadcast as live on your computer, then you will still need to buy a licence.

But if you watch via “catch-up” services, such as the BBC’s popular iPlayer system, provided you don’t watch programmes at the same time as they are broadcast on TV, you don’t have to pay anything beyond your broadband subscription.

So simply by waiting an hour after the official broadcast time, you can watch most of your favourite shows, absolutely free of charge.

If you are under 25 years of age then you probably know this already. Among the tech-savvy this is common knowledge. I frequently work with young people and they are avid consumers of BBC news, sport and drama – and not one would dream of buying a TV licence for the privilege of doing so. Why pay when you can get it free?

This is a major problem for the BBC and will only grow in size as today’s youngsters, who are used to getting everything free via the internet, mature.

The current funding method for the BBC – basically imposing a tax on owning a television set – has long been a bizarre anachronism, but in today’s digital, multi-channel world it is increasingly becoming unworkable.

Wiser heads at the BBC are aware of this and are desperately searching for alternative funding models. They want to avoid the subscription model, such as used by Sky, because this would result in a drastic reduction in the £3.6bn a year the BBC gets from the current “television tax”.

According to reports this 
week, a “blue-skies” review at the BBC has suggested adopting a John Lewis-style model whereby the audience becomes the owners of the Corporation, although membership of this club will be enforced. It sounds like the current licence system under another name.

Even worse for the BBC, payment of the current licence looks increasingly to become a voluntary contribution in future.

This week the Government announced plans to water down penalties for TV licence dodging by making it a civil rather than a criminal matter.

Currently, 180,000 predominantly poor people are dragged through the courts for non-payment each year, and about 70 are sent to jail.

Former Labour Minister James Purnell, who is now a £300,000 executive at the BBC, wants these punishments to continue to protect the Corporation from the consequences of licence evasion. Lock up the poor! Isn’t it strange the way left-wingers abandon all compassion for the disadvantaged once their cosy little sinecures are threatened?

The BBC is on borrowed time, as one of its stars, Jeremy Paxman, admitted a few years back when he said the licence 
fee was a bit like “taxing people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil”.

Cringeworthy Clegg vs Elvis

I am still trying to uncurl 
my toes from Nick Clegg’s embarrassing speech to the Lib Dem Spring Conference in which he listed the things he loves about Britain.

The result was a long list of well-used clichés including a cup of tea, the shipping forecast, queuing, and, in one unintended hilarious moment, the British love of “flip-flops” (over tuition fees, for example?).

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, a pensioner who goes by the name of Lord Biro was beating the Lib Dem candidate in a council by-election in Nottingham.

That’s one thing I love about Britain – when the Bus Pass Elvis Party can humiliate the likes of Nick Clegg.