BBC to use controversial TV licensing collection firm as outreach officers

He wrote at the time: “The BBC takes very seriously how licence fee collection is managed. We should do everything we can to minimise evasion, but must always ensure that how this is done is fair and proportionate.”Details of the licence fee “outreach team” for over-75s were provided yesterday by Clare Sumner, the BBC’s director of policy, in an appearance before MPs. She did not mention that the job would be outsourced to Capita.Ms Sumner said the people recruited would be “a different cohort to people who enforce the licence fee” and the visits would be carried out “as sympathetically as possible”.But MPs said the doorstep visits could be “traumatic” for elderly people, while Age UK said the plans would be “chaos at best and deeply upsetting for some of our oldest people at worst”.Up to 3.7 million older people who currently receive a free licence will have to pay the £154.50 cost from next June, after the BBC scrapped the universal concession.Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP, led condemnation of the BBC’s plan yesterday. “The BBC will send bailiffs round to octogenarians and calls them an ‘outreach team’, Humpty Dumpty would be impressed by such linguistic gymnastics,” he said. The BBC has come under fire over licence fee plans Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. The corporation is urging people who are currently eligible for pension credit but do not claim it to sign up for the benefit.The Office for Budgetary Responsibility said this could cause an extra 250,000 claimants to register, at a cost to the Department of Work and Pensioners of £850 million.That significantly outweighs any savings the BBC will make by scrapping the universal concession. “The net effect on the public finances would be to push the budget deficit up not down,” the OBR said. Helen Skelton became the latest BBC presenter to criticise the corporation’s plans for the over-75s. “I say this reluctantly because cut me in the middle and it says ‘BBC’, I think it’s a fantastic organisation that has a deserved and fabulous reputation worldwide, I started at the BBC and I hope to finish at the BBC… but is it time to end the licence fee and do something different?” she said.“Older people are the most loyal people to the BBC. They need to reinstate those free licences otherwise there’s going to be a massive public outcry.”A BBC spokesman said: “As outlined, we are recruiting a specific group of staff as customer support workers to over 75s. Their sole purpose is to help people apply for their licence – including a free licence – and raise awareness of Pension Credit as we recognise that this group may welcome more personal support either through TV Licensing hotline or by a visit.“They will not arrive unannounced – we will always contact people several times by letter first. And they will not be involved in enforcement action.”It emerged yesterday that the BBC’s decision to means-test the licence fee could cost the public purse more than it saves. The BBC said the team will not include bailiffs. Capita suspended two members of staff and conducted an internal review, which led Lord Hall to say he was satisfied that the behaviour was “neither systemic nor representative” of the firm’s field operations. The BBC is to use Capita, the controversial TV Licensing collection firm, to provide the “outreach” officers who will visit the homes of over-75s in pursuit of licence fee payments.Two years ago, the corporation ordered an investigation into reports that Capita employees were using aggressive tactics to target vulnerable people.An area manager for the firm was recorded by an undercover reporter explaining the company’s methods of collection, which included taking payments on the spot with handheld card machines.“Cash, debit, credit card – we’ll take anything. I tell people I’ll take shirt buttons,” the manager said. The company had an incentive scheme in which enforcement officials earned bonuses based on how many licence fees they sold on the doorstep.A former RAF officer suffering from a brain tumour and early onset dementia was taken to court for non-payment after he forgot to renew his licence.It was claimed that a Capita worker, told of the man’s condition, replied that he did not have time to “listen to excuses”. The case was only dropped when his doctor provided written evidence of his condition to magistrates.At the time, the BBC’s director-general, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, expressed “serious concern” about the allegations. Free licences for the over 75s are being scrapped Free licences for the over 75s are being scrapped The BBC has come under fire over licence fee plans read more