At present, using a television receiver without a valid licence can lead to prosecution, a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000. In some cases, where there is a refusal to pay the fine and where all other enforcement methods have been tried, a person can be sent to jail.
Decriminalising the offence?
Decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee was looked at in 2014-15. An independent review (the “Perry Review”, July 2015) recommended that the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained for as long as the existing system of licence fee collection was in operation. The Government at the time accepted the recommendation.
DCMS consultation (February 2020)
In February 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published a consultation on decriminalising the offence. The DCMS said that it was right to look at the issue again given “ongoing concerns that the criminal sanction is unfair and disproportionate”. In reaching a decision, the DCMS would consider:
- whether an alternative, non-criminal enforcement scheme is fairer and more proportionate;
- the cost and difficulty to implement any alternative scheme;
- the potential impact on licence fee payers, particularly the most vulnerable and those with protected characteristics; and
- the overall impact on licence fee collection.
The consultation closed on 1 April 2020. Over 150,000 responses were received.
Government response (January 2021)
In its January 2021 response, the DCMS said that it remained concerned that a criminal sanction for non-payment was “increasingly disproportionate and unfair”. However, any change to the current system would have wide-ranging impacts for licence fee payers – such as potentially higher fines and costs for people evading payment under a civil regime.
The Government would therefore keep decriminalisation “under active consideration”, with more work carried out on alternative enforcement schemes. This would take place in the broader context of setting the licence fee for 2022-27.