The BBC has ordered an investigation into reports TV licence fee collectors targeted vulnerable people, spurred on by an aggressive incentive scheme.
An investigation by the Daily Mail said bosses at Capita, which collects the fee, promised bonuses of up to £15,000 a year to catch 28 evaders a week.
Capita said statements made to an undercover reporter “do not reflect the high standards we expect”.
The government said it would talk to the BBC about the company’s conduct.
The newspaper sent a reporter to interview for a job at Capita, and allegedly found staff being pushed to gather evidence to take as many people to court as possible.
One interviewer was recorded saying: “We will drive you as hard as we can to get as much as we can out of you because we’re greedy.”
Code of conduct
According to the paper, the company’s 330 field officers are told they must hit a target number of evaders, known as the “magic 28”, and for each person they catch over that, they can be paid an extra £20 to £25.
A statement from the BBC said the organisation had asked Capita to “investigate urgently” and “ensure swift and appropriate action is taken”.
It added: “Capita is contracted to manage the majority of the service and there are clear policies and standards in place that we expect to be upheld at all times by Capita employees.
“We expect enquiry officers to behave in a courteous, professional manner and abide by a published code of conduct.”
Capita said its incentive scheme only applied to sales of licence fees and it only prosecuted as a last resort.
A spokesman added: “Capita is required by the BBC to ensure households are not breaking the law. Officers are expected to act in a professional manner.
“We strongly refute any allegation that officers are instructed to act outside of these requirements. Where we find employees have not acted as they should we act appropriately.”
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said the BBC was right to launch an investigation and it would be speaking to the corporation directly about the accusations.
Damian Collins, Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons culture committee, told the Daily Mail: “It’s very concerning. This is being done in the BBC’s name.
“The BBC needs to make sure changes are made to the way this contract is being run or that it’s taken away from Capita and given to someone else.”
Labour MP Chris Matheson, who also sits on the committee, called for Capita bosses to be summoned to Parliament.
Efforts to pay
In 2015, 166,000 people were fined for licence fee evasion. The maximum penalty for watching BBC channels or iPlayer without a licence is £1,000.
More than one million offenders go through magistrates court in England and Wales every year for evading the payment.
In January, new sentencing guidelines were introduced meaning magistrates can impose a non-financial penalty, known as a conditional discharge, so the person will not be sentenced unless they commit another offence.
This will only be used in cases where people have made significant efforts to pay the fee.