BBC offers 'easy-pay' licence to cut evasion

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(First Edition)

THE BBC today introduces an interest-free easy payments plan as its latest weapon in the war against licence fee dodgers, writes Michael Leapman.

Viewers can now pay just over pounds 7 a month by direct debit, instead of a single payment of pounds 84.50, the fee for a colour set.

Over the past year, by improved detection and an advertising campaign, the BBC has cut its non-collection rate from 7.7 to 7 per cent of the 22 million households with sets. Rodney Baker-Bates, director of finance, said he hoped the total of 1.5 million evaders could be further reduced by the new scheme, which would ease the burden on those with financial difficulties.

Viewers opting for the monthly scheme begin payments six months before their licence is due for renewal. By the renewal date they will have paid half the fee, and the last six payments will be in arrears.

At the end of 1992, John Birt, the director-general, committed himself to making the licence fee easier to pay when he introduced Extending Choice, his blueprint for the corporation's future.

The existing easy-payments systems will continue - the licence savings stamps sold at post offices, and the quarterly direct debit, which carries an annual surcharge of pounds 5. Viewers can apply for the new monthly facility - which is not applicable to the pounds 28 fee for black-and-white sets - by telephoning 0272 226666.

Mr Baker-Bates said that Producer Choice, where departments charge each other for services, is working so well the corporation may save an extra pounds 80m this year above what had been forecast. The money will be used to improve programmes.