Belfast Telegraph

BBC's 3,500 letters every working day threatening people about TV licences

By Adrian Rutherford

The BBC sends out up to 3,500 letters every working day to viewers in Northern Ireland threatening them with £1,000 fines unless they buy a TV licence.

Around 2.3 million letters demanding payment were posted in the last three years.

The mass mail-outs cost the BBC almost £500,000 - equivalent to 3,400 licence fees, even though only a small minority dodge the £145.50 charge.

It comes after the Belfast Telegraph reported how TV licence evaders accounted for a quarter of all criminal prosecutions in Northern Ireland last year.

The BBC was responsible for one in every four cases received into Magistrates Courts.

In the 12 months to last April more than 10,000 people were taken to court for not paying their licence fee.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson believes it is time to scrap the TV licence.

"This shows the number of people who have decided they don't want to pay this compulsory fee for a service which many, like myself, never use," he said.

Anyone watching television as it is being broadcast must have a TV licence.

The maximum penalty for non-payment is a £1,000 fine.

Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph reveal the extraordinary lengths taken - and costs incurred - by the BBC to force people to pay the licence fee.

These include letters threatening people with large fines if they do not cough up.

Between April 2012 and April 2015 a total of 2,377,737 letters were sent to addresses in Northern Ireland.

And the threats are on the increase. In 2012/13 some 661,570 letters were sent out, while last year this had jumped by 35% to 898,306.

The figures were released by the BBC after a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper.

The 2014/15 figure equates to an astonishing 2,461 letters every day of the year, or around 3,500 per day over a five-day working week. Many homes received multiple letters. Some reports say people have been deluged with up to 30 a year.

The BBC was unable to say how many times it had issued letters to the same address on multiple occasions.

It also refused to disclose the costs involved in the mail-out, citing the "commercial interests" of the companies it uses.

However, it did confirm that the average cost of posting one letter was around 21p.

Based on 2,377,737 letters, it will have cost at least £499,324 - equivalent to 3,431 licence fees.

Mr Wilson has said the BBC should offer people a choice of whether they want to watch its output, and therefore pay the £145.50 fee, or opt out.

"The BBC fear that because they know that people would leave them in droves," he said.

A TV Licensing spokesperson said: "As the vast majority of licence holders pay by Direct Debit, we send very few letters to most people.

"We only use letters where we don't have an email address or customer consent to use their email address. Letters are a cost-effective way to get people to buy a licence."

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