New right of appeal to the BBC Trust on complaints about licence fee collection

Date: 29.10.2007     Last updated: 23.09.2014 at 09.50
Following an extensive review of how the BBC handles the complaints it receives, the BBC Trust is proposing new ways to strengthen and simplify systems and, for the first time, is extending the public's right of appeal to the Trust in serious cases of complaint about how the licence fee is collected.

Chitra Bharucha, Vice-Chairman of the Trust, said:

"The Trust represents the interests of all licence fee payers and this includes ensuring that the process for collecting licence fees is efficient and fair. The public – including the very small number who choose not to own a television set – needs a simple complaints' system to handle concerns when things go wrong. For the first time, this complaints' system will include a right of appeal to the Trust in the event that a serious matter cannot be resolved by BBC management."

The Trust will be publishing its proposals for how the BBC should handle all complaints on Wednesday this week (31 October 2007), including plans to speed up the process for editorial and fair trading complaints. The Trust is inviting licence fee payers, the rest of the broadcasting industry, and anyone who'd like to get involved, to offer their views during a three-month consultation period.

Under the Trust's plans, complaints against the BBC would still be addressed in the first instance by BBC management. Final appeals to the Trust would apply only once all other avenues had been exhausted.

Chitra Bharucha said:

"The BBC is owned by the people who pay for it and the Trust wants to ensure that complaints are received via a system which is open to everyone, consistent in its fairness to all, and simple to follow. For any complaints' system to be effective, it must have the confidence of those who might choose to use it, and the Trust wants to hear from the public and the rest of the industry about the changes we propose to speed up and simplify the BBC's complaints' systems."

What's proposed by the Trust

Licence fee collection complaints

The Trust is proposing a number of changes to how the BBC handles complaints about how the licence fee is collected. Since the Trust's review started, systems have already been simplified by reducing the number of stages in the management complaints' process. In future, BBC management must account to the Trust for its complaints' system and, although the Trust still expects most complaints to be resolved by TV Licensing or BBC management, it now plans, for the first time, to hear appeals in serious cases.

These could include appeals from people who feel they have repeatedly received an unsatisfactory response from the BBC or TV Licensing to their complaints about unfair treatment. For example, members of the public who have received a number of letters or house calls after they believe they have demonstrated they already possess a television licence or do not own a television set.

Editorial complaints

The Trust is proposing shortening the timescale for editorial complaints to ensure that complaints can be responded to as soon after broadcast or publication as possible, and that appeals to the Trust can be taken more quickly than at present. It can currently take more than a year for some complaints about editorial matters to reach the Trust, meaning that, for example, a second series of a programme may have started before a complaint on a first series has been resolved.

Fair trading complaints

The Trust is inviting the broadcasting industry and anyone or any organisation outside the BBC to give their views on how the BBC and the Trust handle fair trading complaints.

The BBC's fair trading policy sets out overarching principles with which the BBC must comply when conducting its commercial trading operations. These include, for example, ensuring that the BBC's public services are not cross-subsidising the BBC's commercial activities.

The Trust believes that reducing the period of time in which complainants can request an appeal to the Trust after receiving a response from BBC management from two months to one month would lead to a more efficient system, enabling appeals to the Trust to be taken more quickly than at present.

Consultation period

The Trust is inviting views on all these proposals and on the full complaints' framework for the BBC from Wednesday 31 October when the consultation document will be available on its website at www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust. The Trust will also be conducting audience research with a wide range of licence fee payers and holding meetings with consumer groups and representatives of the broadcasting industry.

The consultation period closes on January 31 2008 and the Trust expects to finalise and publish new systems for how the BBC handles the complaints it receives in spring 2008.

Ends

Notes to editors

1. Responses to the consultation can be made online at www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust and also by post and email.

The postal address is: Complaints' framework consultation, BBC Trust, Room 211, 35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4AA.

The email address is complaintsframeworkconsultation@bbc.co.uk

2. The consultation includes the following questions:

  • Is the proposed complaints' framework clear and is the tone and style appropriate?
  • Is it fair?
  • Are the time limits for submitting and answering complaints appropriate?
  • Is the process and criteria for appealing to the Trust appropriate?
  • Are the procedures accessible to all?
  • Are the sanctions for upheld editorial and fair trading complaints clear?
  • On TV Licensing complaints, are you clear what would qualify for an appeal to the Trust?

3.Parliament determines the BBC's method of funding and sets the level of the licence fee. Complaints about the licence fee as a method of funding the BBC, the level of the licence fee or the value provided to the licence payer by the licence fee are outside the scope of the television licensing complaints' procedures.

4. The BBC Charter states that the functions of the Trust include:

"setting the framework within which the BBC should handle complaints (and the framework must provide for the Trust to play a role as final arbiter in appropriate cases)." (24 (2) (g)).