The government is going to have a look at decriminalising the licence fee, the money households with a TV must legally pay to fund the BBC.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has ordered a review into the punishments for non-payments. The harshest punishment for not paying the licence fee is a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000.

The BBC has warned that decriminalisation could cost it £200million a year, while a previous government review in 2015 said non-payment should still be a criminal matter otherwise it would encourage people to evade paying fees.

Should the government make big changes to the licence fee or should they leave it as it is?

The Claim

During the General Election campaign Johnson said he was "looking at" abolishing the licence fee altogether and he encouraged the BBC to fund free TV licences for the over 75s.

He said: "You have to ask yourself whether that approach to funding a media company still makes sense in the long term given the way that other organisations manage to fund themselves."

Others in the Conservative Party have suggested it might be time to change the BBC's funding model. 

Several other European countries fund public service broadcasting through taxation, which would leave the BBC's income at the mercy of the government. A subscription service akin to Netflix has also been touted as a possible alternative.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore argues that the government should go beyond decriminalisation and push for full abolition.

He describes households having to pay a fee to watch TV that goes towards funding the BBC when many of them hardly watch the public service broadcaster.

The Counter Claim

The government has been accused of threatening the future of the BBC as Downing Street took ministers off the Today programme and said it planned to "withdraw engagement" in the future.

Heavily criticised for its coverage of the General Election campaign from both sides of the political spectrum, the BBC is in a vulnerable position with few in politics willing to wholeheartedly defend it against attempts to reduce funding. 

The Conservatives in particular were not happy about Andrew Neil calling Boris Johnson out for an interview after the leaders of the other major political parties had been grilled. Johnson was accused of ducking scrutiny and ended up not being interviewed.

The BBC themselves have warned they are facing an "existential crisis" at the hands of the new government, insisting this might be the time that the broadcaster is significantly changed by government interference.

They warn that the government is attempting to weaken the BBC to reduce the amount of scrutiny it can provide, suggesting Brits might not know what they had with Auntie Beeb until they lost it. 

The Facts

In the UK it is a criminal offence to watch live TV or use the iPlayer catch-up service without a licence. It is estimated that around 6 per cent of British households are breaking the law and watching TV without a proper licence. 

Those who are found not to be paying are sent letters encouraging them to get a licence with the £1,000 fine being the harshest punishment. Not paying the court ordered fine could lead to a prison sentence.

The licence fee costs £154.50 a year for a colour TV and £52 for a black and white set, with 25.8 million households paying it in the last financial year it raised £3.6 billion in funding for the BBC.

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Money from the licence fee represents around 75 per cent of the BBC's revenues. They also make money from selling their programmes to other broadcasters and from merchandising from their more popular shows. 

The current Royal Charter which outlines how the BBC is governed runs until 2027, meaning the licence fee cannot be abolished until then. However, the current price of the licence fee comes up for negotiation in 2022. The government and the BBC then need to agree on a fee for the next five years.