Boris Johnson may decriminalise BBC TV licence non-payment

Following Boris Johnson’s landslide election win, the government is understood to be reviewing rules around TV licence non-payment – which could remove the threat of imprisonment. 

Currently, you are required to pay £154.50 a year for a TV licence if you watch or stream any live TV services in the UK, including accessing catch-up content on BBC iPlayer.

Being found guilty of non-payment usually results in fines of £25-£1000, and willful and repeated refusal to pay the fines can result in a prison sentence.

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Government sources speaking to the Telegraph suggest that fines would remain – but they would be would be backed up with potential civil sanctions, instead of criminal ones. This could see the threat of prison sentences removed.

While over 100,000 people every year are found guilty of TV licence-dodging, the vast majority of fines are paid. For example, in 2013, 178,332 people in England and Wales were taken to court for not paying fines, but 153,369 were found guilty, and only 32 of those received prison sentences.

Despite the large numbers, court cases are usually dealt with en-masse, and so do not take up a disproportionately large amount of court time.

A review of the TV licence payment mechanism – one of the main sources of funding for the BBC – was mooted by Johnson on the campaign trail, after he’d been criticised for ducking an interview with veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil.

Past critics have argued that weakening the penalties for TV licence evasion would lead to more people not paying.

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While you are required to have a licence to watch live TV on any device, you do not need one to watch Netflix, and so for many, the lure of £8.99/month for entertainment needs makes more financial sense than £154.50 a year – although such a comparison ignores the fact that Netflix doesn’t offer rolling 24 hour news, live sports broadcasts, digital radio stations.

A DCMS TV Licence Enforcement Review carried out in 2015, found that: “While the current licence fee collection system is in operation, the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained.”

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