The risk of jail time over TV licence fee evasion is reportedly staying put – at least until 2022.
The government has been discussing the possible decriminalisation of the BBC fee ever since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister – but the ministers have now reportedly decided to postpone their decision.
The annual TV Licence fee, which is used to fund the BBC, currently stands at £157.50/year. Anyone who watches the BBC live, or via BBC iPlayer, has to pay it.
In addition, if you watch any type of live TV from any broadcaster (even an international one) – you also need to pay the fee (See our full guide on whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee or not).
As it stands, 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.
Last month, alarming data from the Ministry of Justice showed that 74% of all those convicted of TV licence fee evasion in 2019 were women, usually for the simple fact that they are more likely to be at home when the inspectors come knocking.
In total, there were 114,000 convictions of TV licence fee evaders in 2019 (up 3% from 2015).
Last year, Boris Johnson ordered a review of the BBC licence fee, with its cancellation or decriminalisation on the table.
Earlier this year, government sources suggested that the licence will be decriminalised soon, and failure to pay it will be regarded as a “civil debt” – similar to not paying your energy bill, for example.
The fines will then be enforced in the civil courts and by bailiffs, and those debts could also affect your credit rating.
However, different voices then came from the government, when culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the decriminalising of the fee would “send a signal that it’s acceptable not to pay your television licence”, and the public debate raged on.
Now, The Telegraph reports, the government is preparing to shelve the decriminalisation plans.
Reportedly, the ministers are concerned the move would make matters even worse, with poor families being harassed by bailiffs and debt collectors.
Therefore, the decision has been postponed until at least 2022.
This comes a week after the media and data minister John Whittingdale – who has been overseeing the TV licence fee consultation, spoke about these issues before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
When asked when the results of the consultation would be published, Whittingdale said he’s hoping “Before Christmas, but possibly later”.
He also admitted there are many aspects of the TV licence fee he “doesn’t like”, namely that it’s a flat charge with no means testing, and that “Eventually we will need alternative means of funding”.
When will Govt publish results of consultation on decriminalisation of licence fee evasion? Hope before Xmas but possibly later. It got 150k responses & opinion strongly divided. Govt feels criminal sanctions are disproportionate, but alternatives have potential negatives too.
— Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (@CommonsDCMS) December 15, 2020
As to whether the BBC should be turned into a Netflix-like subscription service, Whittingdale implied it’s mainly a technical issue – “You can’t do that while the majority of people receive their TV through Freeview.
“It may eventually change, but we’re a long way from that. Licence fee debate will be part of 2027 charter review.”
The BBC’s new director-general, Tim Davie, previously said he’s against a subscription model: “We could make a decent business out of it, and I suspect it could do quite well in certain postcodes, but it would make us just another media company serving a specific group.”