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'Auntie' should care how fee is collected

Editor's Viewpoint

If we are totally honest, no one likes having to fork out £145.50 for a television licence. To be asked to pay up or face a fine of up to £1,000, while grieving the death of a loved one, is an unnecessary intrusion at a time when most people would be feeling vulnerable.

Yet more than 6,000 such threatening letters are issued every year in Northern Ireland on behalf of the BBC. They are sent to families where the licence holder has died.

This newspaper accepts that every household should pay the licence fee if they watch television on any of the many platforms now available, unless, of course, the licence holder is aged 75 or over and is, therefore, exempt from paying.

The BBC produces a vast quantity of high quality television and radio programmes and, for many elderly people, the television set or the radio may be their most constant companion. It is right and proper that the licence fee - which is the corporation's main funding mechanism - should be paid to ensure that these broadcasts continue.

We only have to look at the work of Stephen Nolan locally in exposing the RHI debacle to see the value of a well-funded public broadcaster.

It should also be pointed out that the task of gathering the licence fee is not carried out by the BBC directly, but by an outsourced company, Capita.

There are suggestions the company could be over-zealous in its pursuit of fees because it operates with an incentive scheme.

While the BBC may not be hands-on in the collection of the licence fee, however, it is done in its name and, if the operation is perceived to be callous or insensitive, then that will reflect badly on the corporation rather than its agent.

That is the problem with sending pro forma letters. Where someone has passed away, grieving relatives - in many cases it may be simply an elderly spouse or partner - will not only be coming to terms with the void in their lives but also trying to sort out a myriad of other issues, from funeral expenses to insurance policies and wills.

The last thing they need to be told is that, unless they pay the licence fee when its comes up for renewal, they will get a call from an inspector and could face a huge fine. This would be very distressing to people already at a low ebb.

The BBC should look at how its licence fee collection scheme operates and, if it needs to, take a more caring approach when dealing with bereaved customers.

Belfast Telegraph

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