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House of Commons Hansard
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13 February 2020
Volume 671

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12. What his policy is on BBC licence fee penalties and payments. [900808]

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The Government have committed to maintain the licence fee funding model for the duration of this 11-year charter period. We want to help vulnerable people who may struggle to pay for their TV licence, which is why we have announced the simple payment plan, which will come into effect on 1 April. On penalties for evasion, we believe it is right to look again at whether the criminal sanction remains appropriate, given ongoing concerns about whether it is unfair and disproportionate.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that the BBC should stop focusing on criminalising customers who cannot pay for the licence and focus instead on its agreement to provide free TV licences for over-75s?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. As we made clear in our manifesto, we recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s. They should be funded by the BBC, and we remain disappointed with the BBC’s decision to restrict the over-75 licence fee concession only to those in receipt of pension credit.

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As the Minister just made clear, he is aware that in only a few weeks’ time, some of our poorest and most vulnerable pensioners will be hit with TV licence fee charges. The Government deliberately foisted what should be a social provision on to the BBC which, foolishly under Lord Hall, accepted this responsibility. Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State that the Government have no business doing that, and will he commit today to stepping in to cover the cost for the most vulnerable in society?

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Forgive me for repeating the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), and the answer that I gave to the urgent question last week, but we are consulting on whether the decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion should go ahead—that is absolutely the case. If the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) is saying to me that, in 2020, the future of a broadcaster’s financing is based on potentially sending someone to prison, we perhaps need to look at other models of funding.