Age-Related TV Licence Policy

Results of qualitative research conducted by Ipsos MORI for the BBC have been published.

The author(s)

  • Elizabeth Copp Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Sophie Wilson Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Daniel Cameron Public Affairs
  • Nick Pettigrew Deputy Managing Director, Social Research Insititute
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Ipsos MORI was commissioned by the BBC to undertake research with UK adults as part of the BBC’s programme of listening to views, comments and suggestions in relation to the age-related TV licence policy. The BBC’s consultation document relating to this policy was published on 20th November 2018. The themes of the research cover those of the consultation document, including:

1. Views about three overall options for the concession:

  • Copying the current concession, which would provide a free licence for all households with at least one resident aged over 75, paid for by the BBC;
  • Restoring a universal licence fee, so there would be no age-related concession at all;

  • Reforming the concession in some way.

2. Views about three particular reform options:

  • Discounting, where households with someone aged 75 and over pay half the cost of a TV licence;
  • Changing the age, where households of those aged 80 and over get a free TV licence;
  • Means-testing, where households of those aged 75 and over in greater financial need, linked to Pension Credit, receive a free TV licence. 

3. Views on how the Reform options could be applied. 

Key findings

The findings outlined in the report describe the many different views about the future of the concession discussed and debated by participants. These deliberations are summarised throughout the report, including the challenges participants faced as they considered the decision facing the BBC, and the different criteria they considered as they explored the issues. The broader conclusions we can draw from participants’ deliberations and their final preferences for the future of the concession are summarised below:

  • Discussing the age-related TV licence policy was difficult for participants, and they emphasised throughout that this was a hard decision for the BBC Board. They discussed the trade-off between the impact on older people, especially the potential impact of taking something away that they already receive, and the impact on BBC programmes and services. Many felt this was a trade-off that was very challenging to make because there would be winners and losers whatever decision is made.
  • As a result, some felt the BBC should go back to government to ask for funding for some form of concession to continue, or to ask for greater flexibility around the level of the licence fee. Many participants also wanted the BBC to look to pursue funding routes such as advertising or subscription as alternative ways to raise revenue.
  • Whatever their overall view on the future of the concession, participants emphasised the importance of the BBC continuing to make efficiency savings, including reducing staff salaries and prioritising programmes and services, before making any changes to the age-related licence fee concession. This reflected a perception among most participants that there was a role for the BBC, older people, and licence fee payers in paying for any concession.
  • Offering a recommendation about the future of the concession was challenging for many participants and involved weighing up different and sometimes competing priorities around fairness, financial impact and feasibility. Overall, each of Copy, Restore and Reform received some support from participants. However, most participants supported reforming the concession in some way, rather than copying the current concession or restoring a universal licence fee.
  • Those who preferred copying the concession prioritised protecting older people from losing the concession and did not accept that continuing with the current concession would have a significant financial impact on the BBC. Some felt that the BBC would be able to make the required savings by reducing salaries, continuing to make efficiencies, and combining channels or prioritising programmes and services, and that this would not be noticeable to audiences. This view was more common among those older participants who supported copying the concession. Other participants who preferred copying the current concession supported the idea of the BBC offering more limited services because they felt they would be able to access content they valued elsewhere or that the BBC currently offered them little that they valued.
  • Those who preferred restoring a universal licence fee were most worried about the financial impact on the BBC of providing a concession. They tended to be the most supportive of the BBC and believed that reductions to programmes and services would have a significant negative impact on quality. Their view was that everyone paying for the licence fee was fairer than offering a concession based on age. (Participants used ‘everyone’ in this context as a shorthand to mean every household needing a TV licence). 
  • However, most participants decided against both copying the concession and restoring a universal licence fee. They argued that neither option was fair. This was because either all BBC audiences would lose out because of cuts to programmes and services if the current concession was copied, or older people would lose a benefit they were currently receiving or deserved if a universal licence fee was restored. These participants wanted to find a balance between protecting older people and limiting the impact on the BBC and on licence fee payers. They had different opinions about the best way to achieve this balance in practice. This often centred on whether they felt everyone should pay something towards the programmes and services they were receiving, or whether some groups in greatest need should have access to additional support in paying the licence fee.
  • As such, there was support for discounting the licence fee as a way of reforming the concession across participants, including those who ultimately favoured copying the concession or restoring a universal licence fee. Discounting the licence fee was seen as a way of continuing to offer a concession to all older people, while ensuring everyone pays something towards the BBC. Means-testing the concession was also widely supported, although this option was more polarising, with some participants concerned about feasibility. There was less support for raising the age people become eligible for the concession because participants felt any distinction would be arbitrary and worried that the age could be raised further in future.
  • Older participants were more likely to support copying the concession than those aged under 65, but views were mixed. Concerns about fairness to all TV licence holders meant that among older participants the level of support for reforming the concession in some way was similar to the level of support for copying the current concession. A few older participants also supported restoring a universal licence fee.
  • Overall, across all age groups, participants’ principled views about different types of fairness were more important than their own age or life stage in shaping views. Participants’ views differed on whether it was fair for everyone to make a contribution for receiving BBC programmes and services, or whether some groups should be treated differently because of their circumstances.
  • Likewise, support for the BBC also shaped views. Participants who personally valued BBC programmes and services, or believed they were important for other groups, wanted to limit the extent of cuts to the BBC’s offer. As such, they tended to support restoring a universal licence fee or a reform option that reduced the financial impact on the BBC as they wanted to limit reductions in the quality and range of programmes and services. This also helps explain why views were not consistent between participants of a similar age – views of the BBC and how they conceptualised fairness in this situation had a greater effect on perceptions.
  • Overall, deciding on the future of the age-related licence fee concession was seen as difficult by participants. During their deliberations, they acknowledged that it was hard to balance different interpretations of fairness that many recognised as important, even when they were clear on their own preferred option. The conversations raised fundamental questions about fairness to different groups in society, welfare, and what the BBC offers in return for the licence fee, which compounded to make this a challenging decision. They also emphasised that any changes to the concession would have to be carefully communicated to avoid damaging the BBC’s reputation, particularly if the BBC Board decided to restore or reform the concession.

Technical note

See Annexes A, B and C contained within the full report for methodological details, information about the workshop and interview structure, and access to the research materials used for this study. 

The author(s)

  • Elizabeth Copp Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Sophie Wilson Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
  • Daniel Cameron Public Affairs
  • Nick Pettigrew Deputy Managing Director, Social Research Insititute

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