At least a thousand homes a day are getting rid of their televisions to avoid the BBC licence fee and watch shows on the catch-up services instead.
The most recent figures show that during a 15-month period to the end of last year, an extra 500,000 homes declared that they did not have a television, potentially saving them the £145.50 cost of the licence fee.
The Mail Online report:
The number is expected to soar in the next few years as rising numbers switch to viewing programmes on catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player using laptops, tablets and phones, which are often exempt from the licence fee.
The BBC has called for the loophole – which has already cost it millions in lost revenue – to be closed and new Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has previously said he supports this.
But critics said it was further proof that the BBC should scrap the ‘outdated’ compulsory licence fee and replace it with a voluntary subscription to fund programmes.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘The BBC needs a model of funding for the next century, not the last one. The BBC keeps telling me how great it is. If it’s that great it has nothing to worry about a subscription-funding model which would not be compulsory.
‘The Corporation has the same revenue as the UN and twice the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is a leviathan of an organisation.’
Channel 5’s former chief executive David Elstein told the Sunday Times: ‘More and more people are going to twig that if they dispose of their fixed television and watch on a phone, tablet or laptop, the BBC will no longer chase them [for the licence fee]
‘That 1,000 a day will turn into 2,000 a day. Why would you pay £145.50 a year if you don’t have to?’
By law, the licence-fee exemption only covers those who watch catch-up services on devices not capable of receiving live television.
But Mr Elstein said that the BBC did not dare prosecute those with devices that can receive live pictures as it would be a PR disaster.
In the 15 months to the end of 2014, the number of homes that said they did not own a television jumped from 1.1million to 1.6million, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board found.
The figures do not show how many stopped paying the licence fee, but if all 500,000 had it would cost the BBC £72.8million.
Michael Underhill, a television specialist for research company Enders Analysis, said: ‘For many years the number of households who claimed to have no television sets hovered just below the million mark.
‘Therefore the most reasonable explanation for this sharp rise is that they claim no longer to be watching live broadcasts, but only catch-up television.’
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We’ve repeatedly said that the licence fee should be modernised to include people watching catch-up TV and we’ll discuss the best way of doing this as we approach the renewal of our charter.’