iPlayerThe BBC has finally closed the loophole which allows people to watch programmes via iPlayer without having to have a TV licence.

“About time, too”, you might say. Most people have a TV licence, so using iPlayer as a catch-up service or a different way of  “consuming” television is fair enough. But what about people who, quite legally, don’t have a TV licence, but watch iPlayer anyway? Are they out-and-out freeloaders or is it just another example of tax avoidance (legal, but morally dubious) rather than tax evasion (illegal)?

The simple fact is that the BBC costs money to run and, taking things to their logical conclusion, if everybody used a “free” iPlayer, then their wouldn’t be much left to watch.

That said, the current system can be heavy-handed and can throw up some curious anomalies.For many years, I had to buy a colour licence despite having a black and white TV because my video recorder was classed as a colour receiver. And, of course, anybody can listen to BBC radio without a licence.

And then there’s the whole wasp’s nest that is the “free” TV licence for people who are 75+ – it isn’t free at all, it’s paid for by the rest of us and, because of the household nature of the licence, anyone else in the household benefits regardless of age.

iPlayer3So what’s the answer?

One solution might be to collect the licence fee via council tax and incorporate any low-income (rather than age-based) concessions in the existing discount system. This would have the benefit of retaining the household link, but would be much cheaper to run and almost impossible to evade. It would mean that the small number of people who don’t have TVs would contribute, but the BBC is effectively part of our national infrastructure and you don’t have to listen to Today to benefit from John Humphries’ daily grilling of dissembling politicians.

The BBC should certainly consider making iPlayer TV available world-wide via a pay wall and could even give people overseas the opportunity to make a voluntary contribution towards the cost of radio services.

And, oh, yes, they haven’t really closed the i-Player loophole because all you have to do is check a box to say that you’ve got a licence, so it only affects the scrupulously honest.