400,000 caught watching TV without a licence

Corgi, James Bond and the Queen A licence fee dodger thought they didn’t need to pay for BBC output (such as above) because their corgi may be related to the Queen’s dog

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The Olympic torch relay and a hamster are some of the bizarre excuses used by licence fee dodgers, according to the TV Licensing body.

The organisation says more than 400,000 people were caught watching TV illegally, i.e. without a valid licence, in 2012.

Evaders were among 5% of all licensable premises dodging payment last year - a proportion that has remained stable since 2006.

At an annual cost of up to £145.50, the licence fee provides a total of £3.7 billion for BBC TV, radio and online services.

In 2011/12, evasion resulted in the corporation missing out on £204m, while the cost of collection was £126.1m (3.4% of total revenue).

Potential fine

In the UK, it is illegal to watch or record any TV output during transmission unless viewers have paid for a licence.

The law also applies to those who see programmes on computers and mobiles during a simultaneous telecast.

TV licences

  • Since 2010, TV Licences costs £145.50 for colour sets and £49 for black & white monitors
  • Out of 25m licences, there are 13,000 for black and white sets
  • Those who are aged 75+ can get free TV licences
  • The BBC is reimbursed by the Department for Work and Pensions for the 4.25m licences for those aged 75+
  • Concessions are available for some people with disabilities

In addition to the 400,000 evaders, around 428,000 people told TV Licensing last year they legitimately did not need a licence - a slight rise from 425,590 in 2011.

Reasons varied from unoccupied addresses to only using catch-up services. The latter applies to only 0.2% of UK viewers according to audience research.

But Chancellor George Osborne, who has compared the licence fee to a tax, recently warned the BBC could suffer a "very sharp fall in income" as viewing habits change.

There are currently a record number of 25 million licence fees in use in the UK, although it is estimated that 26.5m homes - 97% of households - own televisions.

One Kilmarnock resident asked: "Why would I need a TV Licence for a TV I stole? Nobody knows I've got it."

A Mancunian viewer explained they could not afford the fee, because they had bought new clothes after recent weight loss.

One Londoner also said the Olympic torch relay had prevented them from getting to the shop to make the payment.

Stephen Farmer, TV Licensing spokesman, said: "Joking and wacky excuses apart, it's breaking the law to watch live television without a licence so anybody doing this risks prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000."

He added there were different payment options to spread the cost, including by phone or online.

Cute hamster Another licence fee dodger said they could only pay if they sold their hamster
Hamster ultimatum

Some of the licence fee dodgers' excuses have now been voiced by animated crows in short promotional films from Bafta-winning directors Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson.

Other bizarre excuses include:

  • I don't want to pay for a licence for a full year. Knowing my luck I'll be dead in six months and won't get value for money. Cardiff
  • I had not paid as I received a lethal injection. Unknown location
  • The only way I can afford to pay for my TV Licence is if I sell my hamster; is that what you want me to do? Liverpool
  • I could not pay as I only have two pairs of pants and they were both in the wash. Slough
  • Apparently my dog, which is a corgi, was related to the Queen's dog, so I didn't think I needed a TV Licence. Belfast
  • I got caught shoplifting so I'm barred from the shop that takes PayPoint payments. Leeds
  • I only use my TV as a lamp. If you switch it on it gives a good glow which allows me to read my book. Dundee
  • Only my three-year-old son watches the TV. Can you take it out of the family allowance I receive for him? He watches it so he should pay. Manchester
New funding responsibilities

Licence fee breakdown

In 2010/11, the BBC spent, per household, a monthly average of:

  • £7.96 for 10 TV channels
  • £2.11 for 10 radio networks plus nations & local services
  • 66p for online output including iPlayer
  • Along with other costs, this added up to £12.13, or under 40p per day

The BBC froze the colour licence fee at £145.50 until the end of the current Charter period in 2017, as part of the government's spending review in 2010.

It has resulted in a net 16% budget cut, or annual savings of £700m, and means the corporation now pays for BBC Monitoring and co-funds Welsh channel S4C.

The BBC will also pay for the World Service from April 2014, and support new local TV and broadband.

"TV Licensing" is a BBC trademark used by companies contracted by the corporation to collect licence fee payments.

The first licence fee - for radio - was issued at a cost of 10 shillings (50p) when the BBC was born in November 1922. It was followed by the introduction of the first combined radio/TV licence, which was £2, in 1946.

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