menuMENU    UK Free TV logo Archive (2002-)



Click to see updates

TV Licence replacement: is going to be French, Finnish or German?

Back in February 2015, the Culture Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons published their Future of the BBC report. It looked at three other systems in use to collect money for the public service broadcaster. Which do you like?

published on UK Free TV

Given that the chair of that Select Committee is now the Minister, I thought it might be instructive to look at the two alterative systems for funding the BBC within that report (click here to download).

The report looked into three other systems, one from Finland, the French one and the other from Germany.

Finnish system

Since 2013, the TV licence in Finland has been replaced by everyone 18 and over.   This YLE tax is set at rate of 0.68% of income.  It does have two protections: if the contribution is below £38, no charge is made (income of less than £5600); and the maximum personal contribution is £103.

In effect the unemployed and students don't have to pay.    Those without a TV set on middle incomes have found themselves having a new tax to pay. 

"Given that the system was only introduced in 2013, it is probably too early to judge its success."

The problem with such a system in the UK is that the current PAYE system isn't really up to it, and a large number of people make other arrangements because they are self-employed, have more than one job or have investment income.     

German system: Rundfunkbeitrag

Again, since 2013, the old system based on the number of "broadcasting receiving devices" was changed to a universal flat fee per household, regardless of television usage.  Some unemployed and student households are exempt. 

Given that the old evasion level was higher than thought, the new levy is lower than the old licence fee whist maintaining income. 

Given that it would be a reasonably trivial matter to change the basis of the UK TV Licence to "all households", this would not address the perceived issue of such a tax not being progressive (in the sense that the more you earn, the more you pay).

The Select Committee said: "The German model of a broadcasting levy on all households is our preferred alternative to the TV licence.  We recommend that the independent panel and Charter Review process should investigate the advantages and disadvantages of a household broadcasting levy as an alternative to the licence fee and on how the broadcasting levy could be made more affordable for low income groups in the UK. We also believe that the new Finnish system, of a hypothecated tax specifically for broadcasting, based on an individual’s income, although still its infancy, would still be worth consideration during Charter Review".



"In France, the television licence is collected with the French equivalent of their council tax (taxe d’habitation). One advantage of collecting a licence fee with another tax or through a utility bill is that the collection costs can be shared with another body and reduced. If the licence fee were collected through the Council Tax or with a utility bill, nonpayment could be pursued through the civil courts."

The issue of making a public service broadcaster tax "progressive" could be addresses by using the council tax banding to make the fee higher in households with larger properties.   The system already has scope for discounts for single households. 

Also, the committee notes that

"While the licence fee annual collection cost appears extremely high, BSkyB told us that £100 million was nothing compared to what the BBC would need to spend on marketing in order to retain subscribers."


All questions
BBC Three Linear channel re-opens1
Removing all barriers to communication between diverse cultures2
How do I get a test card with Freeview3
What can I do when my Sky Digibox says 'No Signal' or 'Technical fau4
Can I receive UK TV in Ghana?5
In this section
BBC salami-slicing returns to overnight services?1
#GreatBBC campaign launched2
Goodbye BBC Red Button!3
Want to know how much the BBC spend in England, Scotland, Wales and NI per home?4
S4C and Welsh Exceptionalism?5
BBC future: make sure you make the deadline6

Friday, 15 May 2015

11:05 PM

Briantist: You've laid out the logical, sensible possibilities of an alternative to the licence fee (if one is needed). Sadly, this 'debate' is not going to be logical, sensible, or anything else. Instead, the choice BBC funding over the next five years will be marked by dogma, crass commercial self-interest masked as ideology, political free-market nihilism, and thermonuclear levels of lying and stupidity. Basically its Dunning Kruger as performance art, which (sadly), we've already seen on this thread.

I agree that the Finish system has a problem with regards to the UK - the intrastructure simply isn't up to the job. Ian Duncan Smith might say that Universal Credit works fine, but nobody else is convinced, and you'd be looking at a similar level of complexity.

The German system has much to commend it. Its simple, straightforward, and since pretty much everyone has a TV or uses the net, everyone is covered. However, the biggest moans about the licence fee are:

'I have no choice - I have to pay it' (you might say the same about Car Tax),

'I dont use the BBC, why should I pay for it' (96% plus use it on a weekly basis, so your probably lying)

'It's a tax!' (call it a 'user fee' instead - happy now?)

'It doesn't reflect the ability to pay' (True, but niether does Sky or your Gas bill)

'Its the principle of the thing!' (Life isn't perfect - get used to it)

Alas, the German system doesn't answer any of these, and actually makes it slightly worse. At least if you dont have a TV, you pay nothing. If the BBC made Iplayer only available if you've paid you licence fee (perfectly doable), then that loop-hole would be closed up anyway, and there would be little difference between the two. I think the German system is perfectly sensible, but its not going to happen, if only because its a German idea, which is unlikely to find favour with certain tabloids.

Much can be said of the French system - logical, but French! Unfortunately, that sysyem is out of the question, because Council tax is a nightmare. The banding hasn't been changed in decades (because government is terrified of the outcry), and many councils will do almost anything other than actually raise those rates (my local council boasts of leaving it as it is, yet has a huge deficit). Politically - its a no go.

The most sensible option - leave the system for now, raise the fee to a level which covers the inflation of the past 5 years, etc, and stop it bleeding money through having to pay for whatever nonsense Jeremy Hunt though up 5 years ago.

Unfortunately, thats not going to happen. The Tory Party has both ideological and other reasons to destroy the BBC (their patron doesn't like it), and so they will keep the licence fee at the same level, which amounts to a cut after inflation, just as its has suffered for the past 5 years. This (in US GOP circles), is called 'starving the beast', where you cut off as much funding as you can. You can then claim you didn't kill it - it died of natural causes.

It will of course get worse. The next charter renewal will see even more burdens put on the BBC - apparently the BBC local news is responsible for the death of local newspapers (I thought it was the net and the fact theat they are a bit rubbish), so money will go to that, plus whatever whimsical idea enters Whittingdales mind. LW will not be going!

This has the advantage of stretching BBC finaces still further, which will lead to cuts in services, which will be unpopular, and lower quality, which will be an excuse to lower the licence fee still further. There will also be endless investigations, 'scandals' (the Daily Mail and Sun will be busy), and of course at least one report a year written by a friendly hedge fund manager, which will lay out how things must change. Every bit of election coverage will be looked over for 'bias', which of course will be found.

Ultimately, the BBC will wither on the vine, and then the American system will come into play. A tiny PBS, funded by an unwilling government and whatever assets it has been left with. It will do its best, but its funding will be subject to the whims of politicians, and its news output will be anodyne and non threatening (just listen to NPR for a taste). The BBC will be killed like a boa constrictor kills - slowly, by squeezing again and again. Except that those doing it will not need to eat, just to prove that the free market must always be best, and because someone lse will make money.

Of course it doesn't have to be this way. The Tories have a small majority, and David Cameron knows that the BBC is a much loved institution which is vastly more trusted than any politician. Whittingdale and others are zealots, who often over-reach, and the press is powerful, but its not all-powerful. Ultimately, people actually like the BBC, and killing it will not be easy, even if the Tories want to. However, lets not get lulled into the Wykehamist Fallacy - there are many who would cheerfully kill the BBC, just because they can.

If you want to see what the BBC does do, look at PBS in US - they dont make drama, becuase they cant afford to. They buy ours - the bulk of it from the BBC - PBS: Public Broadcasting Service
Someone thinks the BBC does a good job - perhaps we should as well, and fund it properly.

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,579 posts GB
Saturday, 16 May 2015

10:22 AM

MikeB: Thanks for that. I'm going to look into the "how it might work" details of each of the three alternative systems shortly.I have to say that I am have - at this time - a bit more faith in the future. For one thing, I have met and spoken to Mr Wittingale - Scrap TV Poll Tax and some DRM - top Tory - and I get the impression that he had the ability to be both dogmatic and practicable.Remember when he said the TV Licence was a "poll tax", he then said that "BBC to be funded from general taxation". Not that the BBC should be privatized or scrapped.Other thing is that the government majority is TINY now, and unlike the John Major days the Conservative Party is in a tiny minority in the House of Lords. Yes, they can use the Parliament Act to shove one or two things though, but the Salisbury Convention is only a verbal agreement between a Tory peer and a Labour on back in the 1940s.It's going to be very, very hard for this government to make new laws. Yes, they can do all the executive stuff they like, but passing new laws will be hard.

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,844 posts US

5:13 PM

Ian Edge: That option was covered here - "Funding method: Tax on TV subscriptions" - BBC 2017: Tell me about the 16 options to collect the BBC 4 billion quid a year?

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,844 posts US
Tony Hill

6:39 PM

I like the present TV licence system very much. Being an OAP, the BBC is free to me!

link to this comment
Tony Hill's 65 posts GB

11:51 PM

One thing i like to say.....When me mum was alive... this is back in the 1970's when we upgraded our tv from 405 line black and white to colour in 1977.... i saw a letter with TV licencing i asked why we need this... I was told we must have a licence to own and watch tv same as dog licence etc... fair enough... But now i realized it is soley for BBC and Channel 4 which is part owned by BBC.... correct me if i am wrong..

I thought the Idea of an TV licence was to own and view TV programmes regardless in Colour or Black and white.. yes there are people out there still use black and white via freeview box... but it must be a freeview reciever ONLY.. if you have PVR hooked up to a black and white set you MUST pay full colour licence ..... it was the same in the 80's with VHS video recorder as they record colour signal.... crazy or what.... BUT my gripe is I am deaf been deaf since birth..... WHY is NOT all freeview channels are NOT all Subtitled? makes me feel why should I pay the full fee as i cannot hear sound at all totally dependent on subtitles.If the blind people can pay less tv licence as they cannot see the images... what about the deaf who wants to watch other freeview channels IE True entertainment, CBS movies for men..... they do NOT carry subtitles..... Quest only carry some subtitles not all.... things need to change to make ACCESS to TV for ALL......... but i shall bear the pain of paying the FULL licence. rant over....

link to this comment
Rob's 171 posts GB
Sunday, 17 May 2015

11:44 PM

Briantist: Your more optimistic than I am, but I hope your right!

Whittingdale is an interesting (and perhaps contradictory) character. The good news is that he actually has an interest in the arts, and having sat on the Parliamentary Committee for so long, actually knows the issues. he also does think the BBC should be making quality programmes that the commercial companies dont really touch, such as childrens programmes and the arts.

If we take the BBC's mission from the old Huw Weldon quote 'make the good popular and the popular good', he's strong on the first. However, his ideological belief in the free market and the notion of 'crowding out' means that he simply cannot accept the second part, that the BBC should be making programmes that are for a mass audience. In effect, he believes in the US model.

He is there for a reason. David Cameron has appointed ministers knowing exactly what they want to do, and generally removes them only when the political cost has been too high or they have failed, such as Andrew Landsley or Owen Patterson. I'm a great believer in Molly Ivin's dictum about deciding what a politican will do in office ' You consider three things - you look at their record, you look at their record, and you look at their record'.

Whittingdale called the licence fee a 'poll tax' - thats what he really thinks, and thats the basis on which he will operate. Of course his idea of funding from general taxation is even worse. It does not take into account of whether you are in a position to use the service, obviously raises the problem of direct political control of the broadcaster, and creates a funding stream liable to be changed at any moment. Its not just grandstanding free market types who might cut funding (although this is exactly what happened some years ago when the Republicans tried to kill funding for PBS in the US), but I'm reminded of the Blair government using the National Lottery Fund as a slush fund to cover some NHS costs. The tabloids loved it: 'Sick children, not ballet', but it was blatently populist blagging.

Frankly, funding a non populist BBC from taxation is like assuming everyone should shell out for a big box of Quality Street, but only letting people have the really nasty ones, or nothing at all. I think everyone should get at least some sweets they like!

I'm encouraged that he rejected the 'subscription now' idea as unworkable (unlike so many commentators), and I hope that other players in the market will point out the folly of radically changing things - UK Broadcasting is a delicate ecosystem, and with any luck his pragmatic instincts will kick in. Besides, he'll have a lot on his plate.

The current government majority is both a good and bad thing. Its good because I suspect there is little appetite on the moderate wing of the Tory party to cause uproar, and the Lords are unlikely to be happy. Its bad because the right will have a lot of leverage, and will want a statement of radical political intent. The Major government privatised the railways because they wanted to send a bold message that they were not just treading water, and because they'd pretty privatised everything else. Governments often do really stupid things, just to be able to say they are doing something. And I'm sure Very Serious People will tut loudly if the Salisbuy Convention is broken, no matter how unpopular the result.

It also depends on what the other political parties will do. The Labour Party made a manifesto commitment to support the licence fee, although at what level will now be interesting (and listening to the vapid and nonsenscial statement from at least one candidate for the leadership, I wouldn't count on that either). The LD's (under Tim Farron) will probably hold the line, and the SNP might do so (although they might still hold grudges from the Indepence Vote).

What would happen during the European Vote might be interesting - if one side loses, will they blame the BBC for their coverage? And if the Scots trigger another Independence vote, then that will also be a possible Casus Belli for many. And it also depends on Rupert Murdoch's health. If he died, would the pressure on the BBC be the same?

I cannot see any alternative to the licence fee - everything else is either politically unacceptable or fails to answer any of the basic criticisms from the right. And never underestimate the British desire to do as little as possible - inertia is a given. Instead, it will be death by starvation and constant harassment, if they can get away with it. Of course this will not be stated. Instead, it will be a case of 'we had to destroy the village in order to save it'.

link to this comment
MikeB's 2,579 posts GB
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
Richard E

12:24 AM

The BBC should be a subscription only service . In the General Election , they were hideously anti Conservative, & they are far too powerful . This is very bad for democracy , as they obviously anti Conservative & Ukip . These voters now hate the BBC for its blatant propaganda , so if this happens, I for one think it would be a good idea . In the 21st Century, freedom not to pay a TV tax should be a welcome change .

link to this comment
Richard E's 42 posts GB

8:14 AM

Richard E: I think your personal bias is showing there. The independent research done shows that the BBC didn't do that at all.


But I guess you're the kind of person who thinks that hearing another point of view is wrong so you're never going to be satisfied without one-sided propaganda effort.

"these voters now hate the BBC "The things is... they don't.

They love the BBC. They actually like to hear a balanced point of view. Year in, year out, the research shows that the BBC is used and trusted by voters of all persuasions.

And - another thing - is these voters don't want to have the BBC as a subscription service. Because they don't want to pay two or three times for the same thing!

[1] Channels 4 and 5 giving Tories more airtime than other broadcasters | Media | The Guardian

link to this comment
Briantist's 38,844 posts US
Thursday, 21 May 2015
bill Kay
4:34 AM

Tony Hill: You Must be over 75 for a free license, I am a OAP and have to pay.

link to this comment
bill Kay's 1 post TH

9:43 PM

bill Kay & Tony Hill:

I'm not yet 70 but my wife is over 75 so we get a 'free' TV licence because of her age (she'll kill me to telling everyone!). The rules are that anyone over 75 is elligible for a 'free' licence and everyone in the same household benefits from that concession. But you still have to apply for a licence and have the 'proof' to hand just in case the investigators come to call.

link to this comment
MikeP's 215 posts GB
Select more comments
Page 2

Your comment please
Please post a question, answer or commentUK Free TV is here to help people. If you are rude or disrespectful all of your posts will be deleted and you will be banned.

Privacy policy: UK Free Privacy policy.