TV Licence Fee Jail Time: Government Makes Official Decision

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Possible imprisonment for refusing to pay the TV licence fee is to remain, as the government takes decriminalisation of the licence fee off the table – at least for now. The government, however, “remains concerned” that criminal sanction is “unfair”, and will revisit the issue in the future.

The decision was published by the government this week, following an eight-week long consultation in which a majority of responders were against making changes to the current state of affairs.

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 the BBC iPlayer app, has to pay it.

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

TV Licence infographic 2020

As things are 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 get sent to jail by the courts, if they don’t pay the fine.

“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 (up 3% from 2015). 

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.

Woman looking at TV license fee bill

Nevertheless, alarming data from the Ministry of Justice was published recently, showing that 74% of all those convicted of TV licence fee evasion in 2019 were women, usually for the simple fact that they were more likely to be at home when the inspectors came knocking.

TV Licence Decriminalisation – The Government Decides To Wait

Last February, Boris Johnson ordered a review of the BBC licence fee, with its possible cancellation or decriminalisation on the table. 

The public consultation closed in April 2020, and the results have been debated since. As we reported last month, the government was already on track to postpone its decision for at least two years, and this week, the official response has been published.

The consultation asked whether the government should decriminalise TV licence evasion by replacing the criminal sanction with an alternative civil enforcement scheme. 

TV licence documents

A change would have meant that failure to pay the fee will be regarded as a “civil debt” – similar to not paying your energy 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.

There were 154,478 responses to the consultation, including from 81 organisations including the BBC.

Among individual responders, 17,652 were for decriminalisation and 19,199 against. From campaign groups, there were 18,869 for and 92,831 against.

In its response, the government says that it “remains concerned that a criminal sanction is increasingly disproportionate and unfair in a modern public service broadcasting system.”

However, the government wants to ensure that any future changes to the TV licence sanction or enforcement scheme are not seen as an invitation to evade the TV licence requirement, nor privilege the rule-breaking minority over the rule-abiding majority.

Therefore, decriminalisation will be considered alongside the licence fee settlement negotiations that began last November. The negotiations will set the level of the licence fee for a period of at least five years from 2022 and will provide the context within which any future decision on decriminalisation will be taken.

The government has agreed to maintain the current licence fee funding model until 2027 – when the current Charter period ends.

Oliver Dowden Culture Secretary CC3
Oliver Dowden MP (Photo: UK Parliament)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who already spoke against decriminalisation in the past, said:

“A criminal sanction for TV licence evasion in the digital media age feels outdated and wrong, and many who responded to our consultation agreed.

“Whilst the delivery of decriminalisation right now is problematic, we intend to keep looking at this as we negotiate the next Licence Fee settlement and push for the reforms at the BBC that the new leadership has recognised are needed.”

38 thoughts on “TV Licence Fee Jail Time: Government Makes Official Decision”

  1. When I cancelled I said I only have foreign digital tv and that reason was good enough at that time. Now I see its explicitly mentioned (foreign channels):
    “No one in my household watches or streams TV programmes live on an online TV service.
    e.g. ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video or Now TV
    No one in my household watches or records TV programmes live on foreign channels, via satellite or online streaming.”
    Why do I have to pay for foreign tv? – UK air space?

    • Just to mention – when my only source of tv was freeview I was paying for it for years without complaining, but if I don’t watch it anymore I don’t want to sponsor someone without a reason.

  2. Should put the price for a tv licence down to what people can afford I think it’s then that more people would pay I don’t watch BBC1 or BBC 2 myself or it should be free

  3. I think it’s a disgrace to expect those of us who have always followed the rules ,are now expected to fund other people’s life styles .We are 76&78 respectively we were promised a free license from the age of 75 ,but yet another promise Broken what A surprise..

    • Funny thing is, the BBC seems to not realise they would make more money through a conditional access subscription system, whether through a CA module already built into freeview TVs and receivers, or by telephone or internet line.

      It would even provode much more targeted output to the audience that really wants the BBC.

      Seems crazy, the answer to their funding woes is staring them in the face

  4. I don’t understand why they include all live TV channels in the licence. Apart from the BBC, all other channels use advertisements to fund their stations. If we’re paying a fee to watch them then why are we being forced to watch adverts? The ads fund those channels, not the licence fee. Also the BBC should be forced to justify the cost of a licence considering about 70% of their annual shows are repeats from the previous year, what’s the money being spent on? Certainly isn’t new content.

    • The fee only goes to the BBC. The only reason u pay if ur watching other live channels is because if u are watching them, then you are able to receive the signal for the BBC thus you must pay your licence. I Hhave removed the aerial from my TV and don’t watch the iPlayer. Because of this I legally don’t have to pay my licence. I just stream now. Use my licence fee to pay for Netflix etc.

  5. Paying my TV licence wipes out my pension increase, now as a pensioner I will be out of pocket every this year All my costs go up so pensioners are a looser all the time

    • Don’t agree with you on that idea because it’s not fair on those who are struggling to pay for sky, virgin etc’s extortionate prices as it is. Not everyone is like most people who can as you state afford it, many are less fortunate and wouldn’t be able to maintain sky, virgin etc if the licence were to be added into that bill.

  6. I think it’s a disgrace that the over 70’s now have to pay a TV licence when the vast majority of these elderly people are just over the threshold and entitled to no help and are already struggling financially. Given the situation this last year and one we will be going through for a while yet the thought of anyone having to face jail for not paying a TV licence utterly appals me. Many people right now are struggling to pay to feed their families or rent or mortgages Incedentally, I pay mine, but I am in a minority right now and have been able to work during the pandemic.

  7. My mum is 85 she insisted that I paid her TV licence last year.
    Is it fair that my mum has paid and others that could probably offered it more than a pensioner haven’t…….
    Where does this leave people like my Mum??

  8. I watch a few channels but not BBC or owt like that plus I play games on my xbox too and I use watch stuff on Netflix and also a fire stick do I need a TV licence?

  9. The B.B.C. should be forced to support itself by introducing a radio license for all new cars. Then should consider advertising. If the license fee was slashed more people would pay for it.

    • Why should car owners be singled out to pay for a service they don’t use or need? I literally cannot remember the last time I tuned in to a BBC radio station, at home or in my car, because they are rubbish. Advertising already works for the BBC, see the BBC channel4 for this. A subscription service might also work as the elderly are more tech savvy than the beeb or Ministers let on.

  10. I only watch free view and dvd . If I want to watch something else then I don’t mind paying through normal modern subscription . I feel that the BBC should follow this method and not force their cost on all that owns a TV and threaten fines and jail for not having licence. I was hoping the government would finally sort this out ,,,,, bit disappointing.

  11. I do not think pensioners over 70 years of age should pay for one when they have had them free for years I have had to start paying for one for my mum not good enough

  12. The only use i have on my tv is to watch Netflix or disney with the kids which i already pay monthly fees for , do i still have to pay for a tv license?

    • You have to have a tv licence if you watch any live tv, so you dont need a license to watch DVD’s or catch up (excluding BBC catch up services) but you would still need one to watch things such as channel 4 or sky one or indeed Disney I’m afraid.

  13. Bbc shud have a pay per view,like the way u wud pay if u want 2 watch a movie or sports,so anybody that does watch bbc has 2 pay 2 watch it

      • You have to pay even if you don’t watch BBC, you need it to watch any scheduled TV channel as it is broadcast or iPlayer. This is the main objection of people like me and why I refuse to pay it

        • So how to avoid it?
          I canceled mine 2-3 years ago and it was ok, buy now they sent leaflet again and added such options that 98% of people have to pay… laptops, tvs, international tv.
          So don’t know what to do now.

          • These come out automatically after a period of time regardless of weather you needs to pay or not. If you watch live TV or iplayer then you need one, if not the you dont. Netflix, youtube, amazon, dad’s ect you do not need a lisence. The letters ares only to put pressure on those who are evading getting one when they should have one. Hope this helps.

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