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The BBC News website is reporting that the government are thinking of changing the rules about TV licences.

Not paying the TV licence fee could become a civil offence, rather than a criminal one, under plans being considered by ministers.

This is good, you are hardly a criminal if you do not buy a TV licence. It’s not a licence, let’s be realistic, it’s a tax; it’s a reasonable one too, actually. It funds the BBC so it can broadcast TV and radio programmes without adverts. We all hate having to sit throughout ad breaks during programmes, so having commercial free TV is a great thing. Also the BBC is very good at what it does, largely. There is a lot wrong with the BBC, that’s for another post and it will be a long one, but when it comes to quality, the BBC does well. So in general the TV licence is a good thing, and if you compare what you pay to Sky TV for their programming, the licence fee starts to look like good value for money.

But what is completely criminal, in my view, are the rules on student TV licensing. My son Nick is currently living in halls of residence in Leeds. He lives in a flat with five other people. The rules state that you can not have one single TV licence to cover an entire block of flats where students live. That’s reasonable. It would probably be reasonable to ask that they have one licence for each flat in a block, but that is not the rule. The rule is that you must have you own TV licence if:

  • Your accommodation is self-contained – i.e. you have exclusive access to washing facilities or you have your own entrance to the property.
  • If you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room.

Quite what having ‘washing facilities’ has to do with it I don’t know. In Nicks case, he has all three, his own bathroom, a lock on his door and his own tenancy agreement, virtually all first year students in halls will have their own tenancy agreement. So in Nick’s flat they need to have six TV licences for a flat that is smaller than the average house, where of course you only need one. His building then would need to have about 190 TV licences, an income of £27,645, ludicrous. That really is shameless exploitation of impoverished students, already in debt to the UK government who force them to pay £9,000 a year for their education so that they can benefit the country with their ability in the future. The last thing they need is to have to pay £145.50 a year for a TV licence. Of course in reality it is the bank of Mum and Dad that forks out for it.

However, it does not work. Students are in their halls of residence for about 43 weeks. For a start, they can return the licence before the end of the year for a refund of the unused time, provided it has three full months still to run. That’s a costly exercise for the TV licensing people to have to do, but will probably not apply to students as they will have less time left, that’s somewhat unfair. Also in the 43 weeks there simply is not enough time for TV licence inspectors to go round every student accommodation in the country, just to see if people are secretly watching the BBC iPlayer on a Samsung tablet. It’s unworkable. I know for sure that there are people in Nick’s Halls of residence who have not bought a TV licence. Nick has one, Helen insisted that he had one, so bought one for him. Helen also said it would look bad if they caught him watching ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ on an iPhone without having a TV licence, when his Dad, me, is a former BBC employee. I’m not so bothered about that to be honest!

So by decriminalising not buying a TV licence, even though civil action could be taken against ‘offenders’, will mean fewer people will buy them. Even fewer students will buy them, and I don’t blame them. It would be much better to instead ask that they buy one licence per flat in a block. That way they would be more likely to buy one, when the shared cost would be less of a burden. The TV licence people would actually have a larger income, because as it is most of them don’t bother, and nobody checks on them. Think about it. Make it fairer and you could make more money.

Now all we need is for the government to spend less on themselves and properly fund higher education.