The National Audit Office's report on the efficiency of licence-fee collection says all is well - apart from the rather crucial issue of people not paying when they should. It says the rate of evasion (the percentage of premises that should have a TV licence but do not) has risen to between 6.2% and 7.2% at the end of 2015-16. It puts the increase down to a recalculation of the number of households that use a tv by Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, carried out at the request of the BBC. Up until this last financial year, the BBC reported licence fee evasion as largely unchanged, at around 5%, for the five preceeding years. That, it turns out, was wrong from as early as 2012 - spookily, as the iPlayer became increasingly useful and used.
In 2004 BBC financial whizzes reckoned the floor for evasion was around 3.4%, and agreed a target with collectors Capita of getting it down to 3.95% by 2020. Not surprisingly, all parties are having a re-think.
There are arguments that the evasion percentage could be reported in different ways. There's very little opportunity for the over-75s to evade - they get theirs free. And, you might say, once you've got someone signed to a direct debit, they're pretty much guaranteed payers. Take those out of the calculation, and you're left with somewhere around 7m households, and a much much higer rate of evasion.
Evasion also varies by nation. The BBC's crude evasion rate for the year to March 2016 was 6% in England and Wales, 9% in Northern Ireland and 10% in Scotland. Who'd have thought it - one in ten Scots being naughty ?