Around 1,000 households a day are claiming they no longer have a television, which could exempt them from a paying the BBC TV licence fee if they do not watch live broadcasts from their mobile devices.
The most recent figures from the Broadcaster’ Audience Research Board reveal that in the 15 months up to the end of 2014, an additional 500,000 said they did not have a television.
If all those 500,000 households stopped paying the license fee then it would cost the broadcaster £72.8m in revenue. The loophole is only applicable to those viewers who only use catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer ot All4 to watch shows that aren't show live on devices such as smartphones or tablets not capable of receiving a television signal.
The figures cast further doubt on the future of the license fee, which will be reviewed by the new culture secretary John Whittingdale later this year as the Conservative government looks to decriminalise it. However, no action will be taken to close it before the end of the broadcaster’s current charter in December next year. Last October, Whittingdale slammed the BBC’s licence fee as “worse than poll tax” and said the charge was unsustainable in the long term.
David Elstein, Channel 5’s former chief executive and a vocal advocate of replacing the licensee fee with a subscription model, told The Sunday Times: “More and more people are going to twig that if they dispose of their fixed television and watch on a phone, tablet or laptop, the BBC will no longer chase them [for the licence fee]. That 1,000 a day will turn into 2,000 a day. Why would you pay £145.50 a year if you don’t have to?”
Should evasion of the licence fee be decriminalised, the BBC has warned it would lose £200m annually