Possible Decriminalisation of TV Licence Non-Payment
There is much talk of how overfilled our courtrooms and prisons are, yet thousands of people appear in court every week for not having a TV license – some even end up in jail. But now a bill is going to be put before Parliament proposing that non-payment of the licence should no longer be a criminal offence.
North West Leicestershire Tory MP Andrew Bridgen recently suggested that not paying your TV licence should only be a civil matter, and not a criminal offence. The difference between the two matters is that a criminal offence is seen as against the government. The suggestion gained the support of 143 Members of Parliament.
“It’s outrageous that so many people are brought into the criminal justice system through this means,” Mr Bridgen said. He added that he thought non-payment of the TV license should be treated in the same way as non-payment of parking tickets. “It’s absurd that the courts are being clogged up by such a minor offence.”
It’s possible that the proposal could be included as part of an amendment to the Deregulation Bill if ministers agree, meaning that a vote could take place regarding the issue as soon as 25 March.
However, it’s likely that it will be voted upon when either the licence fee comes up for renewal next year, or when the Royal Charter needs to be renewed in 2017, which sets out the structure, role and functions of the BBC.
The BBC worries that if the law is changed to decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence, then more people will neglect to pay the fee than already do, in turn leading to the BBC missing out on a lot of money to run certain channels or radio stations. “Just a 1% increase in evasion would lead to the loss of around £35 million,” said a BBC spokesperson, who explained that the amount is equivalent to around 10 local radio stations, or BBC Four, CBBC and Cbeebies combined.
At the moment, the TV licence costs £145.50 per year, or £37 every three months, and people who do not pay the licence fee face a fine of £1,000 – as well as a criminal record and prospect of imprisonment if they do not pay the fine. In 2012, more than 180,000 people appeared in court for non-payment, which accounted for around one in 10 criminal court cases. Out of these, around 155,000 were actually convicted and fined, and 48 were jailed.
Maria Miller, Culture Secretary, said that the government is interested in the proposal, “but timing is crucial and decriminalisation of the licence fee should be on the table during charter review, not separate to the process.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling agreed that the idea in an interesting one, “particularly given the pressure on our courts system. Our departments will be doing some serious work on the proposal.”