TV Licence Enforcement Can Cause Anxiety, Government Says

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Criminal sanctions over the TV Licence fee can cause “considerable stress and anxiety”, in particular to “the most vulnerable”, therefore the Government is keeping the issue of decriminalisation under active consideration.

These statements were made this week in the Government’s response to a Commons Select Committee that looked into the future of public service broadcasting, after the committee called for the Government to hurry up and make a decision regarding TV Licence fee enforcement.

The TV Licence fee is used to fund the BBC, and currently stands at £157.50/year. Anyone who watches the BBC live, or via BBC iPlayer app, has to pay it.

tv licencsing documents

Furthermore, if you watch any type of live TV from any broadcaster, you also need to pay the fee (See our full guide on whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee or not).

Last March, the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report that concluded that the TV Licence Fee needs to stay until 2038, because it’s the only viable method of funding the BBC at this time.

In addition, the committee criticized the Government’s stance on licence fee decriminalisation, and its failure to set a clear decision.

As it stands now, failure to pay the TV licence fee is a criminal offence, and evaders can end up paying a fine of up to £1,000 or even go to jail in rare circumstances.

TV Licence infographic 2020

“TV Licensing” found 174,416 people watching TV without a licence in 2019/20, and there were a total of 114,000 convictions of TV licence fee evaders in 2019. However, as of June 30 2020, there were zero people in prison for failing to pay the fine in respect of the non-payment of a TV licence in England and Wales.

In total, licence fee evasion in the UK currently stands between 6.5% and 7.5%.

Earlier this year, the Government was supposed to decide whether to decriminalise the licence fee, possibly handing over its enforcement to bailiffs. The Government then decided not to decide – something the committee was critical of in its report:

“It took the Government almost 10 months to respond to the consultation on decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion. The issue of decriminalisation could be used as a bargaining tool by the Government during the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations with the BBC and S4C, and thereby undermine one of the core principles of public service broadcasting: that it should be removed from Government interference.

“We call on the Government to provide assurances that the issue of decriminalisation will not be used as a bargaining tool during the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations with the BBC and S4C.

“We also recommend that the Government conclude its further work on enforcement schemes, and publish its findings, by the end of the current parliamentary session.”

The Government Responds

This week, the government published its response to the committee’s report. In it, the government said it is still “considering decriminalisation of TV licence evasion and other possible reforms to the licence fee system”, to increase fairness. 

Last year, the Government held an eight-week consultation on whether it should decriminalise TV licence evasion by replacing the criminal sanction with an alternative civil enforcement scheme.

A change would have meant that failure to pay the fee will be regarded as a “civil debt” – similar to not paying a utility bill, for example. The fines would then be enforced in the civil courts and by bailiffs, and those debts could also affect your credit rating.

Bailiff collecting debt tv licence 1200

A majority of responders to the consultation were against making changes to the current state of affairs – but the Government now says that many highlighted the potential mental health costs of the TV Licence fee criminal sanctions.

“Responses to the consultation”, the Government says, “showed that a significant number of people oppose the criminal sanction with some highlighting the considerable stress and anxiety it can cause for individuals, including the most vulnerable in society, such as older people.

“This is more strongly noted for those with particular protected characteristics and the most vulnerable, recognising the additional stress and anxiety it can cause.

“For example, people aged 75 and over now eligible to pay for a TV licence – following the BBC’s decision of 10 June 2019 to limit eligibility for free licences – may now face worry and stress about the threat of a criminal prosecution.”

Last year, there were TV Licence fee changes for the over-75s, as the government phased out subsidies the BBC was getting. Once the government decided to phase out those subsidies, it tasked the BBC with either paying for this exemption from their regular budget, or decide on a new scheme.

Senior couple checking bills

Therefore, starting last August, over-75s were no longer exempt from paying the licence fee, with the only ones still exempt are those who receive Pension Credit.

Normally, people who don’t pay the TV licence fee get enforcement letters, and possibly a house visit from TV Licensing inspectors. In March, however, BBC Director-General Tim Davie said that they’re “not sending any enforcement letters to older people who previously held a free licence”, at least for now.

Nevertheless, the Government is still taking decriminalisation under consideration:

‘It is one of many important issues that must remain an ongoing part of the Government’s wider roadmap for reform of the BBC, which also includes the ongoing licence fee settlement negotiations and the mid-term review of the BBC Charter.

“The Government may in future undertake a further, technical consultation on the possible alternative civil sanctions to set out in more detail how alternative schemes could work in practice.”

The Government also noted that “any future change to the TV licence sanction or enforcement scheme, should not be seen as an invitation to evade the TV licence requirement”, but that responsibility ultimately lied with the BBC:

“The BBC Board is ultimately responsible for ensuring that arrangements for the collection of the licence fee are efficient, appropriate and proportionate, which includes providing support for those aged 75 and over affected by the BBC’s changes to the over 75 concession.”

3 thoughts on “TV Licence Enforcement Can Cause Anxiety, Government Says”

  1. I hate the letters and am shocked by the wording..could you imagine getting that from Netflix or Disney.. you have evaded your subscription it’s illegal to watch Disney or Netflix without a licence and you could be sent to prison… People wish it not to change..??? Who are these people..I guess thise with money who have no opinion really either way. The bbc should send an online questionnaire with a free comment box to equate thier opinion not take a sample of 1000 fully paid subscribers….the letters are worded in such a way that you feel like a criminal when you have never been in your life. It’s far from encouraging. Sort it out BBC. One fee per month cheaper than Netflix then you may be golden again.

  2. The TV licensing people are a complete waste of time the first three months when they restarted charging they could not put a simple direct debit mandate into my bank, the second month
    The bank filled it in and still no success.
    During these three months, on the 15th of each month I would be a letter from them saying the direct debit was successful and on the 22nd payment would be taken.on the 22nd f each month, however n the 21st I would get another letter from them saying that they could not take the payment, from the bank, so we’re to them saying should there if no direct debit was set up on this time, then they would get a cheque.the remaining time from January,to now,even though with every cheque I sent that if no direct debit was set up,then they would get a cheque for that month,.
    It stayed quite hen until the last few months, during the time they was returning cheques what I like have no option to put into y bank, they in return drew the cheques back to them,I had another letter from hem saying,I was 3months behind and a threat of cancelling my license,another letter of saying I had to pay a different larger amount, with no breakdown on how they got to the amount.and the most recent one enclosing a TV payment card with yet again another bigger amount than before.
    Needless to say all letter s were returned each month when send the agreed monthly payment,unread, as there has been no response to letters have sent them.
    I even enquired to th Bacs ombudsman, and there reply was ,,as no direct debit was set up and no payment was taken out then they had done nothing wrong?.
    I still say they had done something wrong by refusing to reply on any of my letters.
    This has been frustrating mentally as well annoying and have done nothing wrong and kept to the contract payment what they asked for.
    I have even considered speaking to a solicitor, but didn’t.
    Incase anyone else who has had this problem who has the answer is easy each payment what is made keep a record of it and take no further if they send any sought of threatening or letters of demands, just say I have nothing to say apart from goodbye.
    As I have learnt that the love you to chat to them all about your life,what means that this time of yours is being wasted,or alternatively probably waiting to get through to the and listening for ages to simple rule to remember ,I that you know and you can prove your payments are up-to-date th
    The it is not you to prove your innocence but for them to prove your guilty of any missing payments


  3. Just cancel your TV tax ASAP, and watch only on catch up, also do not open the door to the licence people and if you do, DO NOT ENGAGE IN ANY CONVERSATION. There is nothing they can do to you if you watch on catch up, but not bbc i player.


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