Page last updated at 02:50 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 03:50 UK

Review of TV licence fee tactics

TV Licensing detection van
Last year 3.4bn in licence fee money was collected

The BBC is to ask viewers and listeners for their opinions on how the licence fee is collected following complaints about "heavy-handed" tactics.

Governing body the BBC Trust has set up the consultation on methods of tracing and deterring suspected evaders.

Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said a "balance needs to be struck between ensuring compliance and avoiding any disproportionate heavy-handedness".

An annual colour TV licence is 139.50. In 2007/8, the evasion rate was 5.1%.

According to TV Licensing, almost half of those claiming not to have a television actually do have one.

'Dire threats'

Adverts warning of an imminent visit from the TV licence detector van have led to some accusations of bullying.

One recent campaign carried the sound of a helicopter apparently bearing down on a street.

It was followed by the sound of a barking dog, a knock at a door and the warning: "Your town, your street, your home... it is all in our database."

Last year, Conservative MP Gary Streeter put forward an early day motion in parliament, signed by 60 MPs, criticising the "intimidating" tactics being used.

He was particularly angry at the requirement for people who do not own televisions - some one million people in Britain - to prove their "non-use".

The BBC has a duty to keep evasion rates as low as possible so that those people who pay are not disadvantaged by those who do not
Sir Michael Lyons
Chairman, BBC Trust

Another Tory MP David Maclean accused TV Licensing of scaring people with "dire threats of prosecution" even when they did not own a set.

Now the Trust's review, launched on Monday, will consider the "tone of the marketing and advertising about the TV licence" and the "enforcement methods used... including letters, visits and detection".

It will also examine whether it is clear enough to viewers when a TV licence is needed and whether the range of payment methods available is adequate.

Sir Michael said the licence fee was vital to ensuring the delivery of good quality programmes.

Strong emotions

"The BBC has a duty to be efficient in collecting the licence fee and to keep evasion rates as low as possible so that those people who pay are not disadvantaged by those who do not," he said.

"This is an issue which arouses strong emotions, because the right balance needs to be struck between ensuring compliance with the law and avoiding any disproportionate heavy-handedness.

"On behalf of licence fee payers, the trust will consider whether that balance is being struck through the processes used to collect the licence and, if there is room for improvement, we will ensure they are made."

Anyone who uses a TV set or other receiver, such as a digital box or computer, to watch or record programmes as they are being broadcast must have a licence.

In 2007/08, 3.4bn in fees was collected. The first combined radio and TV licence was issued in 1946 and was 2.

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