“Enforcement officers working on behalf of the BBC are being offered bonuses of up to £1,000 a month to pursue people who fail to pay the TV licence fee.
Almost 200,000 people are taken to court each year accused of failing to pay the £145.50 fee.
They risk a £1,000 fine, a criminal record and even jail. Now private firm Capita, which runs the BBC’s licensing service, has launched a major recruitment drive to hire extra ‘enforcement officers’ to hunt down even more fee dodgers.
Potential employees were told they could double their basic salaries with commission for collecting the evidence the BBC needs to prosecute householders.
A Capita regional manager said: ‘A decent officer, hitting targets nine times out of ten, in London, is [on] £30k plus, quite easily.’
Enforcement officers are offered a basic salary of £14,000, which rises to £17,000 in London, but they can as much as double this with commission – the equivalent of an extra £1,000 a month.
Capita’s two-day recruitment drive began last week, on the same day Culture Secretary Sajid Javid called for a review into decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee.
The BBC is responsible for more than one in ten criminal prosecutions, leading to complaints these are clogging up the criminal courts.
Last night Tory MP Andrew Bridgen called on the BBC to review how it collects the fee. He said: ‘I’m sure the public will come forward with some evidence of the heavy-handed way licence fee collection is enforced.
‘I know from the stories sent to me that there’ll be some pretty harrowing accounts.
‘I personally know people who have felt so intimidated by enforcement officers that they have paid for a TV licence even when they haven’t owned a television.
‘They couldn’t stand the stress of the aggressive methods and officers knocking on the door.’
At a recruitment day, aspiring officers were told the purpose of the role is to ‘maximise sales for the BBC’ and ‘enforce prosecution proceedings by taking statements under caution’.
Once an officer has taken 30 statements from householders in a week they can start earning commission.
These are higher if customers pay in full on the doorstep. There is a smaller bonus if customers choose to pay in instalments – in case they cancel payments – or if those not at home end up taking out a licence after a calling card is left at their address.
This is considered an ‘indirect sale’. Last night critics said these bonuses could encourage officers to harass householders for upfront payments.
John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘It doesn’t seem right that these officers are incentivised to push for full payments over instalments, when the whole reason some people may not be paying on time is that they’re short of cash.’ In 2012, 193,049 people were prosecuted for not paying for a TV licence, accounting for one in nine of all cases in the magistrates’ courts.
Most of those found guilty were fined up to £1,000 and given a criminal record, and between 50 and 70 viewers are sent to jail each year after they fail to pay the court fines.
Mr Javid last week said a review of licence fee enforcement ‘needs to begin now’. He said: ‘In 2012/13, almost 200,000 people ended up in court accused of not buying a TV licence.
‘More than 50 were sent to prison. When over 10 per cent of magistrates’ court cases concern this one offence, you have to ask whether the current system is really working.
‘The Government is committed to a review of decriminalisation once the Deregulation Bill receives Royal Assent. But we can’t afford to wait that long. This needs to begin now.’
Last month the BBC’s director general Lord Hall said viewers who avoid paying the licence by only watching catch-up shows on iPlayer could still have to pay.
He said: ‘It could be modernised again so it applies to watching BBC programmes both live and on iPlayer. This is for the Government to decide, but worth considering.’
In June, the Daily Mail revealed that 463,846 people avoided buying a TV licence through the iPlayer loophole, declaring they had not owned a set or watched live shows in the past year.
A TV Licensing spokesman said: ‘In 2013/14 licence fee evasion cost the BBC between £196million and £235million in lost revenue, so it’s important that we minimise evasion to ensure as much money as possible goes towards BBC programmes.
‘We do everything we can to make sure people are aware of their legal obligations and are given every opportunity to pay for a TV licence.’ ”
Report By the Mail Online