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New BBC chief told decriminalisation of non-payment of Licence Fee is a “done deal”

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The new BBC director-general could face a funding crisis as the corporation has been told to come up with a replacement for the licence fee after decriminalisation of non-payment was described as a “done deal”.

According to reports from the Telegraph, Timothy Douglas Davie CBE, who takes over from Tony Hall, Baron Hall of Birkenhead, CBE, ‘faces a three-pronged attack’ on the licence fee from the government when he takes up his job this week, senior sources said.

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Ministers are expected to announce in a matter of weeks that people who fail to pay the TV licence will face civil penalties rather than criminal prosecution from 2022.

Moves to “level the playing field” by awarding broadcasting licences to commercial rivals are already underway, in an interesting side note, the media regulator Ofcom has already granted a licence to a new channel named GB News promising coverage “distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents”.

Meanwhile, Mr Davie will be challenged to replace the licence fee altogether with a new funding model or face a battle when the BBC charter is renewed in 2027, Whitehall sources said.

One senior Whitehall source said: “The decriminalisation of the licence fee is a done deal. It will be done sooner rather than later.

“But it may be the least of the BBC’s worries. There is a real interest in levelling the playing field with more competition. Ofcom has already given a broadcasting licence to a proposed new channel, GB News and that may be a sign of things to come.”

One minister said: “There is real optimism that the BBC will come up with a palatable alternative to the licence fee themselves.

“Tim Davie seems to be open to the idea of a subscription model and his background would certainly suggest that.”

BBC Studios | The Org
Timothy Douglas Davie CBE – Image source: The Org

A Bill to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee, the BBC Licence Fee (Civil Penalty) Bill is due for its second reading in Parliament in November.

Despite the bill currently being a Private Members’ Bill, Whitehall sources claim it is likely to receive Government backing.

A senior Government source said: “One in 12 magistrates court cases are for non-payment of TV licences and there is a disproportionate amount of women who are penalised.

“A lot of them are vulnerable over-75-year-old widows who are perhaps bereaved and struggling with bills. Do we really want to see people like that being brought before the courts?

“The BBC is living in a fantasy world if they think the status quo is viable. The arguments have been made even worse by the BBC’s unilateral decision to make some over-75s pay for their licence.”

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