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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 11:26 GMT
BBC 'must combat 200m licence fraud'
Household
Nine out of 10 households have a TV licence
The BBC has been urged by MPs to do more to catch TV licence evaders, who cost the organisation more than 200m a year.

The Public Accounts Committee said the corporation had cut the number of evaders substantially but it was still a "significant problem".

The MPs also called for the BBC's spending to be scrutinised by the National Audit Office.

Good progress had been made in reducing the evasion rate from over 12% in 1991 to less than 8%, the committee added.

The general public pay 2bn each year in licence fees and have the right to independent assurance that their money is used well

Edward Leigh
Public Accounts Committee
But some two million householders were still avoiding paying the licence fee of 112 a year.

The MPs said that situation reduced the money available for programmes and potentially put up the licence fee for those who did pay.

The report also said the BBC should be made to open its accounts to the National Audit Office, so Parliament could check how it spent 2bn of public money.

The BBC has always argued that this would interfere with its editorial independence.

A spokesman for the Corporation's licensing unit said: "Successive governments have agreed that the examination of the BBC's accounts by independent auditors rather than the National Audit Office is necessary to avoid the potential for any political influence which would endanger the impartiality and freedom of the corporation to carry out its public service remit."

Licence Detecting 2001
3.5 million visits
Four out of five visits made no contact with household
459,000 caught
657,000 properties vacant, under construction or did not exist
71,000 households already licensed

But committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "This argument does not stand up.

"We examine financial management at universities without compromising academic freedom.

"Neither the C&AG (Comptroller and Auditor General) nor my committee, has any interest in examining the BBC's editorial judgements.

"We are interested in how effectively they manage their finances.

"My committee considers it essential that the BBC be opened to proper parliamentary oversight.

Evasion penalises the honest majority by making less money available to spend on programmes

BBC Spokesman
"The general public pay 2bn each year in licence fees and have the right to independent assurance that their money is used well."

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has overall responsibility for licence fee policy, including setting the level of the fee, but the BBC is responsible for issuing licences, collecting licence fees and enforcing the licensing system.

BBC response

On the committee's criticism of collection rates, a BBC spokesman said: "We note the Public Accounts Committee's recognition that 'the BBC has made good progress in reducing the evasion rate' over the past decade.

"This echoes the views of Sir John Bourn, the Head of the National Audit Office, that the BBC continues to take steps to strengthen the collection and enforcement arrangements for the licence fee."

He added: "Evasion penalises the honest majority by making less money available to spend on programmes and it is our job to ensure that those who do pay should not be disadvantaged by those who don't.

"Licence fee evasion is against the law and although we would prefer people to pay than be prosecuted, we will continue to pursue evaders, while offering easy payment methods to those who need them."

See also:

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27 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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