TV Licence: BBC fee due to increase next year - how much has the price of watching tv gone up over the years?

Price rises in TV licence prices correlate with a fall in the number of licences issued
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A large number of TV viewers would have been angered by the news that the cost of their TV licence is set to increase once again in 2024. Plans to raise the fee to watch live TV and access BBC television services by almost £15 have raised eyebrows.

The licence fee has remained at £159 for the last two years but it is due to rise to an expected total of £173.30 - in line with inflation - in April 2024. The culture secretary Lucy Fraxer has said she is concerned by the "significant rise" during a cost of living crisis. But how much has the fee previously risen by since it was first introduced in 1923? NationalWorld takes a closer look.

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Originally a radio licence when it was launched in November 1923, it only cost 50p a year back then - but things have changed massively since. After the Second World War, the licence was expanded to include televisions in 1946 at an additional cost of £2 - a big difference to the cost viewers face these days.

As prices have changed so have other elements such as incorporating BBC iPlayer into the fee and watching live TV over internet streaming.

A man driving a Post Office television detector vans at Battersea Depot, London, UK, 5th February 1970. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A man driving a Post Office television detector vans at Battersea Depot, London, UK, 5th February 1970. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A man driving a Post Office television detector vans at Battersea Depot, London, UK, 5th February 1970. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The first combined radio and TV licence was launched for £2 in June 1946 but it wasn't until January 1968 - following the invention of colour TV - that a supplementary licence fee for watching in colour was introduced. To this day, TV licences for colour and black and white TV can be purchased separately. By 1969, the black and white TV licence was £6 and a colour TV licence was £11. Radio-only licences were subsequently scrapped in 1971.

1970s and 1980s

By the end of the 1970s, prices for a TV licence had risen to £12 for black and white and £34 for colour. Prices would then begin to rise sharply and by the end of the 1980s, they had nearly doubled. In 1989, a black and white licence cost £22 while colour TV would now set you back £66. For a time within living memory for many people, a colour TV licence costs nearly three times today compared to the price it did only 34 years ago.

The 1990s and the turn of the century

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Fast forward to 1995 and the cost of a TV licence was now £86.50 for colour and £28.50 for black and white. Within only four years in 1999, viewers would have to pay over £100 for a colour TV licence for the first time. A decade later the rate of price increases had slowed down drastically. In 2009, a colour TV licence cost £142.50 and £48 for black and white.

The BBC iPlayer app users will have had to pay a TV licence fee since 2016 (Photo Illustration by Carl Court/Getty Images)The BBC iPlayer app users will have had to pay a TV licence fee since 2016 (Photo Illustration by Carl Court/Getty Images)
The BBC iPlayer app users will have had to pay a TV licence fee since 2016 (Photo Illustration by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The future - what happens to the licence fee?

The most recent price changes to TV licensing are as follows:

  • April 2017: £147
  • April 2018: £150.50
  • April 2019: £154.50
  • April 2020: £157.50
  • April 2021: £159

Of concern to the BBC is how the number of people being issued with TV licences has experienced significant drops in in recent years. In 2018, 26,183,000 TV licences were issued but only 24,372,000 were issued in 2023. Similarly, the estimated TV licence evasion rate rose from 5.2% in 2011/12 to 8.9% in 2021/22 - according to statistics on the UK parliament website.

In more recent years, the fee has become a source of much debate. There are growing calls for the licence fee to be scrapped - including the 'Axe the Tax' campaign supported by the TaxPayers' Alliance. Some MPs have also recently called for the fee to be scrapped - calls that may lead to decisive action being taken in the near future. A Guardian article says the fee could be abolished by 2027.

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According to the Daily Mail in August 2023, a BBC spokesperson spoke about a lower number of fees being paid for and about the fee needing to evolve. A BBC spokesperson said: "The overwhelming majority of households – approximately 9 out of 10 – are licensed and receive brilliant BBC programming and services across TV, radio and online for 44p a day. Licence fee revenue is holding up well and has fallen by just 1.6% in the last year despite the pressures of increased choice in the market and the rising cost of living faced by all media organisations. Our focus is ensuring we continue to find new ways to serve all audiences.

"The licence fee is the agreed method of funding until at least 2027 and ensures the BBC is an independent, universal broadcaster, which invests in UK creativity and talent. We welcome a debate on whether the licence fee needs to evolve for the future."

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