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The use of 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 considered between 2014-15. An Independent Review (the “Perry Review”, July 2015) recommended 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) launched a consultation on decriminalising the offence (PDF). The DCMS said 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.
  • the overall impact on licence fee collection.

The consultation closed on 1 April 2020.

Government response (January 2021)

In its January 2021 response, the DCMS said 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 (eg potentially higher fines and costs for people evading payment under a civil regime). Decriminalisation would remain “under active consideration”.

Broadcasting White Paper (April 2022)

In its Broadcasting White Paper (PDF) of 28 April 2022, the DCMS again said it was concerned that the licence fee was enforced by criminal sanctions. It noted there was the potential for enforcement action to be taken against vulnerable elderly people. The Government also said the “ongoing disparity” in the proportion of sanctions against women was unfair, with 74% of people convicted for TV licence evasion in 2019 being women. The White Paper confirmed that the licence fee model for the BBC would be reviewed ahead of the next Charter period (the current BBC Royal Charter runs to 31 December 2027).

Documents to download

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