UK Government Freezes BBC License Fee For Two Years

The freeze and potential cancellation of the fee could strip the BBC of vital funding for its five affiliated orchestras

(Photo courtesy: BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)


As United Kingdom’s national broadcaster, the BBC is funded by a licensing fee — which essentially works like a tax that every household with a television and live programming must pay. Because of the fee, the organization doesn't have to rely on advertising or political interference.

Recently, however, Britain's Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced that the Conservative government has frozen the cost of the BBC license fee until April 2024, with plans to possibly scrap it altogether in 2027.

The license fee is to be frozen at £159 per year for each household, as opposed to an increase to £180. Dorries framed the decision as a means of lowering costs for families as they weather the financial consequences of the pandemic.

Over the years, one criticism of the license fee is that it is a flat payment, one in which wealthier households can afford more than others. Additionally, since it is like a tax, refusing to pay the license fee can constitute a criminal offense.

From the organization's standpoint, a large portion of BBC’s income comes from the license fee. According to its 2020-21 Annual Report, the license fee amounts to £3.75 billion of its total £5.06 billion income.

The decision to cut this funding will negatively impact the BBC's ability to create and broadcast quality content. Additionally, a lack of funding could be catastrophic for the five British orchestras that the organization supports: BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

These ensembles, in addition to the vocal ensemble, BBC Singers, support hundreds of casual players, freelancers, and salaried musicians.

"The BBC is the single biggest employer of Musician's Union members in the UK and is in the unique position of supporting five full-time orchestras," said Horace Trubridge, the General Secretary of the Musicians' Union.

"The BBC orchestras alone employ more than 400 contract musicians and many hundreds more on a freelance basis. The BBC also employs and supports musicians working in all genres through its radio and television programming – virtually all MU members will interface with the BBC at one stage of their career."

"Beyond music, the BBC is the envy of the world," Trubridge added. "It is essential that the BBC continues to be able to provide access to a wide range of culture that the market may not provide for and which may not be commercially attractive, but which is irreplaceable to the people who watch and listen to it."