The BBC licence fee - in effect a mandatory tax on every UK home with one or more TV sets - is likely to rise from its present level of £126.50 ($221.27; €184.36) for a colour receiver, to £180 over the next eight years.

Or so predicts a select committee inquiry conducted by Britain's second parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords. The committee forecasts that by 2014, the BBC licence fee will extract over £4.25 billion annually from UK citizens - even though they may never watch or listen to BBC programmes.

The peers also accuse the Blair administration of saddling the BBC with extra costs not directly associated with broadcast services. Says inquiry chairman Lord Norman Fowler: "The licence fee has now been classified as a tax by the Office of National Statistics.

"We do not support this change and believe it has implications for the independence of the BBC. But what is also clear is that the Government is now beginning to use the licence fee as a tax."

Parliament, not the administration, argue their Lordships, should set the fee and that any increases be scrutinized by the National Audit Office. Lord Fowler also urged the administration to help elderly and disabled viewers bear the costs of the forthcoming digital switchover.

"The Government rightly takes on the responsibility for providing free licences for the over 75s and funds it from general taxation. It should do the same with help for switchover, he said."

The BBC licence fee will again increase on 1 April 2006, an annual colour licence rising to £131.50 and a mono licence to £44.

Data sourced from Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff