A Licence to print money?

On 1 August 2020 the BBC will stop offering most people aged over 75 an exemption from the TV Licence fee. This is despite agreeing to retain this exemption as part of a deal with the Government in 2016.

In that deal, the BBC promised to make the financial savings needed to protect the over 75s in return for allowing the TV Licence fee to increase annually with inflation. They have failed to make those efficiencies and now have decided to take £157.50 off the majority of people aged over 75.

Ironically, the BBC is trying to attract a younger audience (who have largely deserted ordinary TV for online products) and want to use money raised from the older viewers to pay for this strategy.

Then, of course, there is issue of the millions of pounds that the BBC is to pay the tax man, after an investigation found hundreds of their staff were part of a tax avoidance scheme. It’s not the staff that have to reimburse HMRC – the BBC are doing it for them!

So, with money in short supply, the Beeb have picked on the elderly.

Rather than become efficient through competition, like other broadcasters, the BBC can relax as it has access to the unique Licence fee cash cow. They can ask for, or more accurately demand, £157.50 from anyone who watches or records live TV, even if they never select a BBC Channel.

The Grey Pound

Age UK summarises the issues for older folk well:

Removing older people’s access to TV would be an unthinkably cruel blow when many are already facing huge challenges.

  • Half of all over 75s are living with a disability, and many rely on their TV for companionship and entertainment.
  • For those who don’t have the internet, TV lets them stay up to date with what’s happening in the world.
  • Nearly a third of over 75s are living in poverty or just above the poverty line. Paying a hefty extra bill would simply be impossible when they’re barely scraping by as it is.
  • Our research shows that more than 2 million over 75s will have to go without TV or cut back on heating and food if free TV licences were scrapped.

Qualitative easing

Recent reports of cuts to BBC Regions is not a good sign either: around 500 Regional BBC staff will be made redundant over the next few months.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, my local station (BBC Northern Ireland) has provided a very balanced service, accurately reporting on the news that impacts on this part of the country. No dramas, no fear-mongering, no misrepresentation – just well-informed news.

Contrast this with the main BBC News coverage, which has bordered on campaigning or activism. Not so much news as opinion pieces. Their BREXIT coverage was bad enough, but the questions raised at the Daily Coronavirus Briefings were agenda-driven: simply trying to trip politicians up for a “gotcha” moment. They placed value on ratings over reporting.

And this at a time when we, as a population, needed advice, support and clarity to get through the pandemic. You know, like a public service? If I want to see journalists ranting and raving, or questions spat at politicians, I can turn to Sky News. The days when I valued the BBC as the “go to” channel for impartial, insightful news are long gone.

Looking elsewhere

Thankfully, a TV Licence is only required if you watch (or record for later viewing) live TV and/or use the BBC iPlayer.

After seeing the quality of BBC programming deteriorate at an alarming rate, and at the same time discovering the range of catch-up and streaming services available, I reckon it is no longer a “hardship” to avoid live TV (on any channel, not just the BBC!) or use the BBC iPlayer.

A quick look at what is readily accessible, and almost everything I would be interested in viewing is available in a “not live” format.

In no particular order, and yes I know some of these are only available on a subscription basis, look at this list of channels that offer a Catch Up service (often within 24 hours of original broadcast):
Fox, UKTV Play, W, Gold, Comedy Central, E!, SYFY, Discovery, MTV, Nat Geo, alibi, TLC, dplay, Pick, Challenge, Crime+Inv, Lifetime, VICE, Eurosport, BT Sport, Star, SONY LIV, Zee TV, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Nick Jr, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Sky One, Sky Atlantic, Sky Witness, Sky Comedy, Sky Documentaries, Sky Crime, Sky Arts, Sky History, Sky Nature, Sky Sports, Sky News, Channel 5, All 4, ITV Hub….

Add to those, there are several streaming options: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Sky Box Sets, Sky Cinema, Sky Store, Apple TV, YouTube…….

I’m sure the tech-savvy will know of even more.

Try before you don’t buy

I set myself a challenge over the past fortnight: to avoid live TV and the iPlayer.

It’s now the end of that exercise, and I’m pleased to announce it was easier than I anticipated. I only lapsed once, and that was to watch the Downing Street Coronavirus Briefing. I haven’t missed one of these since the virus struck. They have been invaluable in keeping me informed of what is being done to tackle the virus, understanding how these measures effect me, and to ensure I know what actions I have to take.

Apart from that single lapse, I have used Catch-up to watch programmes originally broadcast on channels other than the BBC. My Sky box helpfully lists catch-up services by channel and by day of broadcast. The only “hardship” was having to wait until the day after a programme was broadcast.

Streaming services have brought cinema into my living room, and I have discovered a shed-load of programmes that are new to me but of really good quality. Better still, I can binge watch a series, rather than have to retain the thread of a story from week to week. Useful if, like me, memory isn’t what it used to be.

The only BBC programme I wanted to see, but didn’t, was The Repair Shop.

The soft target

This sort of gets me to my point – eventually.

Without meaning to come across as ageist, older folk rely more on traditional television than streaming. They are disproportionately disadvantaged, therefore, by being trapped into TV Licensing. They are also more likely to be made anxious by the plethora of letters they will get if they don’t buy a Licence, including some which warn of the prospect of being visited by an inspector.

Worse still, they are at risk of being imprisoned if they refuse, or are unable, to pay the fine imposed following a successful prosecution. Ironically, they won’t need a Licence to watch TV in prison.

Time to go?

It has got to the stage where I cannot, in all conscience, support an organisation that has broken its promise to provide a public service, as set out in its Charter, and is now forcing the most elderly in our society to compensate for their inefficiency.

I have seen a lot of recent “civil disobedience” considered as “brave” and “principled” by some commentators. I’ll show my bravery and principles by avoiding “live” TV & iPlayer from the 1 August and cancelling my TV Licence. That will cover the subscription costs of at least two of the main streaming providers.

Giving up on “Auntie”, as the BBC used to be affectionately known, may not be for everyone. I understand that if you love Eastenders, The One Show or Pointless you will have to keep paying the Licence.

Look elsewhere, though, and you will find Strangers Things, Mindhunter, The Grand Tour, The Mandalorian and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel – and tons more besides.

Do your research

Before you commit to cancelling, take time to look at the legalities and consequences of doing so. Stay within the law.

The Money Saving Expert website provides some useful advice: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/tv-licence/

The BBC provides advice, too, but in my opinion it’s deliberately complicated and vague. However, it makes the cancelling process, if you choose to do so, very easy: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/check-if-you-need-one/topics/cancellations-and-refunds-top7

You pays your money, you takes your choice.

“The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television – but then, again, television, at its best, is magnificent.” Steve Jobs

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