Left In the Dark?

First, to international readers, this is an ongoing internal issue in the UK. I wanted to put my thoughts down, but if you are outside the UK, this will probably not be of any interest, so please save your time.

There’s a debate been rumbling on here for a while. It’s funny, I’ve heard the issue raised a few times these last few days, so I just wanted to get my thoughts down on paper.

The UK has a tax called the TV License. It is technically a tax on watching programmes from the BBC, but it dates from the time when BBC programmes were the only programmes out there, so the tax became, effectively, universal. In these days of 100s of channels, the BBC no longer has a monopoly, but they fudge around with this license so that we end up paying it anyway. There are various hoops you can jump through if you don’t want to pay, but most people just pay it.

That’s the general case. There is an exemption. The exemption is if someone is over 75. Your income does not matter, just your age.

There has been a storm in the UK because the BBC, who apply the tax, want to abolish that exemption. Over 75s would now need to pay.

Now, there are a couple of issues here.

The first one is the concern about poverty. Over 75s can be among the poorest in society, although this is not always the case. The most famous over-75, our queen, is worth an estimated £500 million. Even if you don’t understand £, that translates to a helluva lot.

Now, there has already been an attempt to tackle this problem. There is a state benefit, designed to help these poorest people by supplemenmting their income a little. It is arguable whether it hits the spot, and perhaps reform is required as very few people seem to qualify. But basically the rule will become that anybody in receipt of this benefit will continue to be exempt from the license.

The second thing is the isolation. It is common for elderly people to be isolated. It is common to claim that because of this isolation, TV is the only medium through which people can see/hear human beings. I do not doubt that this is true. But the argument continues that the BBC will therefore increase people’s isolation by starting to charge.

I don’t buy that. I don’t think that the BBC are increasing anybody’s isolation. What they are doing is saying that people must start paying for the service. If somebody is isolated and needs the TV for company, they still have it, they just need to pay for it. What if they can’t afford it? Well, people on the lowest incomes will still be exempt.

There is a further issue about whether the BBC is managing its finances properly. I think this is a valid point, but it is a different point to license fee exemptions. We shoulds be discussing both questions, but separately. Possibly the start point should be whether it is appropriate for the public sector (the BBC) to try to compete with the private sector.

  • If we’re going to have a mechanism with any exemptions (which seems absolutely the right thing to do) then we should base those exemptions on wealth, not on age. This fits into the whole “social security” ethos.
  • If the wrong people qualify as being exempt, then let’s fight that battle, and campaign for a change in the rules.

Lastly, did you notice how I got through the whole of this post without mentioning the cost of this tax? That was because its value is not really important to my argument. But if you are interested, it is about £150/year, which is roughly the same value in EUR and USD. I guess we will all have different views on whether that is a lot of money or not.

Author: Mister Bump UK

Designed/developed large IT systems, interrupted by a stroke in 2016, aged 48. Now mix development of health-related software with voluntary work and writing. Married, with an estranged daughter.

30 thoughts on “Left In the Dark?”

  1. Read it with interest, as I remember my dad who did not pay it from a certain age – he passed away at the age of 100 and 7 months in 2016. We have a TV licence fee in Switzerland but it is changing all the time. it is not cheap, but affordable and we have no exemptions according to age or anything else. We get most stations with no problem, Germany, Austria, France and Italy mainly, the surrounding countries. I get most of the BBC/ITV programmes but have to pay a little extra for that. I just love my Eastenders and TV life without David Attenborough is boring. Even Mr. Swiss has become a BBC follower

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will quite often watch the BBC, too. I know I’m lucky to have a choice, but it is worth the cost, to me. The quality of programmes is generally so much better than the independents. But I homestly don’t see how their funding model will survive long-term – this o75s thing is the tip of the iceberg.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I watch the BBC more than any other channel (having said that, I don’t watch much TV).
    I’m aware of the debate, I have not given much thought to it, because I am not a fan of TV in general. But if I find something special, a documentary, a period drama or a series I will enjoy, I am glad to watch it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I like it, too. But I think they have their issues, the whole license fee model is outdated, I think. Plus I have issues that they pay presenters like Gary Lineker something like £1M/year. At those prices, they should be shaking their hand and wishing them the best of luck in the private sector. I bet there is some brilliant talent on BBC local radio earning minimum wage.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes. Definitely should be dependent on the income.

    I have lived away from my country for so long that I am surprised to know that free-to-air channels are no longer free. They are taxing everything to supposedly boost the economy.

    Perhaps the governments of certain countries are trying to mitigate the expenses of the elderly not only because they have less income, but because they’ve been taxed long enough? Regardless, income should be the primary factor for exemption.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You know I don’t think we have a television type tax. A few years ago though there was supposed to be a one-off emergency tax payment. It’s into it’s tenth year now, and I am not really that sure it’s been any help. Since, typical Government, doesn’t seem to ever have money to cover the costs of natural disasters.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. TV costs are outrageous here. Once they did away with the old method of transmission its an ongoing cost rising and rising to see any programs. Many of my friends have had to do away with getting the big three channels and just stream movie. I too shall be one of them soon. The cost is prohibitive even thou I love having the TV on in the background as I go about my day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Currently our biggest channels are free, but who knows where it will go. There are maybe a hundred channels here which are bundled as “free”, but people like Amazon and Netflix are taking market share. ‘Course, it’s easier now that every tv sold is basically a computer.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right. I don’t mind the amount, but I think that they need to have the idea of public/private at the forefront. They have a few “star” presenters who earn £1M/year (again, about the same in your money) and that is just not appropriate for the public sector.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We don’t have a TV tax, per se, here in the states, but I pay more than $150 a MONTH for basic cable TV with “premium” channels like HBO and Showtime. And I pay extra for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. And there are no discounts based upon age or income. £150 (or $150) a YEAR sounds like a bargain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a bargain. And there are no adverts on BBC programs. And the quality of programs is streets ahead of almost everyone else.

      It always amazes me that private TV channels get away with both adverts and a pricy fee — and still don’t seem to have any problems getting custom. To my mind, it should be one or the other; they’re just being greedy.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, absolutely. But then it raises the question of how much advertisers would influence the programmes being made. It is interesting looking at this Britbox venture, I think that model could fly.


      1. Mary subscribes to Britbox on and off (the beauty of streaming solutions). The whole idea of streaming things and video on demand is going to save TV, I think. There are lots of “free with commercials” solutions. Really messes with the whole idea of a TV schedule, but that’s not our problem.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. If they replaced the license fee with a monthly subscription then I would go for it, provided it is in the same ballpark. But I suspect overall, they’d lose revenue because lots of people would choose not to subscribe.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. The BBC has programs on Britbox, but so does ITV, so maybe it isn’t operated by the BBC. Still, if you aren’t watching over-the-air TV and don’t have a cable subscription, they shouldn’t tax you for it. But they probably figured out a way to make you pay, anyway…

            Liked by 1 person

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