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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 04:51 GMT 05:51 UK
TV licence dodgers cost BBC 141m
Children watching television
The dodgers cost each licence payer an average 6
Television licence dodgers are costing the BBC at least 141m a year in lost revenue, the spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office said that even on conservative estimates, the loss to the BBC was the equivalent of 6 for every licence payer.

TV licensing home visits 2001
Approx number of visits: 3,230,000
646,000 to vacant properties
79,000 to properly licensed properties
70,000 to non-existent properties
Almost 400,000 evaders caught
It said the BBC had halved the rates of evasion since it took over collection responsibilities from the Home Office in 1991, but rates were still thought to be running at between 5.2% and 7.6%.

The auditors said efforts to clamp down on licence dodgers were being hampered by lack of accurate information.

As a result, last year a fifth of visits made by inquiry officers - 646,000 calls - were to properties that were either vacant or still under construction.

Another 79,000 visits were made to properties that were properly licensed, while 70,000 calls were made to properties which turned out not to exist at all.

Retailers rapped

The visits by inquiry officers led to 398,000 suspected evaders being caught.

The auditors said retailers were failing in their statutory duty to notify the BBC of television sales, with up to 40% of sales and rentals going unreported.

Stepping up checks
The BBC is planning:
More evening and weekend visits
New detector vans
More prosecutions of retailers

The BBC said it had stepped up pressure on retailers with recent prosecutions of Argos, Sainsbury and Big W (part of Woolworth).

It also said inquiry officers were to make more visits to unlicensed addresses at evening and weekends, when evaders were more likely to be home.

And it said it was about to launch a new detector van which could identify whether a TV set is being used to screen a programme, a video recording or a game.

The auditors also warned that some direct debit schemes required the customer to pay up to 1.5 times the normal licence fee in the first year, which could be putting people off.

'Against the law'

Tory MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said licence evasion levels were still "way too high".

"In some ways, a complete mockery is being made of the system of enforcement," he said.

TV licences
23.7m issued in 2001
19.6m issued in 1991
The BBC said that last year it issued a record 23.7m TV licences, an increase of 20% in the past 10 years.

It said it expected that figure to continue to rise, because of the growing number of televisions in offices and second homes.

In a statement it said: "TV licence evasion is against the law. We prefer people to pay their licence rather than be prosecuted.

"It is our job to ensure that those who do pay should not be disadvantaged by those who don't, so we will continue to pursue all evaders whose actions make less money available for programmes."

See also:

21 Feb 00 | UK
Q&A: Digital TV licence
21 Feb 00 | UK Politics
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