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Independent review on TV licence enforcement published

An independent review looking at the current sanctions in place for failure to hold a TV licence has found that the current system of criminal enforcement should be maintained, at least under the present system of licence fee collection.

It concludes that the current system is “appropriate and fair” and that it represents value for money for licence fee payers and taxpayers. However, the review does recommend that there is scope to improve the current system in relation to the transparency of the prosecution process, and the content and tone of TV Licensing communications; and that the forthcoming BBC Charter Review should consider moving towards a simpler system that would also assist in improving public understanding of what the licence fee covers.

David Perry QC, who led the review, said: “Following a detailed assessment of the various policy options we concluded that there should be no fundamental change in the sanctions regime as it applies to the current licence fee collection system. The current regime represents a broadly fair and proportionate response to the problem of licence fee evasion and provides good value for money both for licence fee payers and taxpayers.”

He added that as an in-depth review of the BBC’s Royal Charter is about to take place, “any change to the method of licence fee collection is likely to have an impact on the viability of introducing a non-criminal scheme of enforcement. It is to be hoped that the recommendations and observations made in this report will be of assistance to those involved in the Charter Review.”

Currently a person who installs or uses a television receiver without a TV licence is guilty of a criminal offence under the Communications Act 2003 and may be fined – currently a maximum of £1,000. In a small number of cases, where there is a refusal to pay the fine and where all other enforcement methods have been tried or considered, a person can be sent to jail for non-payment of a court-imposed fine.

In 2013 there were 178,332 prosecutions in England and Wales for the evasion offence. 153,369 people were convicted and of these 152,664 were fined. The review highlighted that, despite the large number of cases, they are dealt with efficiently and take up only 0.3 per cent of court time. 32 people were imprisoned for non-payment of a court fine imposed following conviction for TV licence evasion.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale MP, said: “I am most grateful to David Perry for producing a very thorough analysis of the practicalities and consequences of decriminalisation. This is an issue which we will wish to consider carefully as part of the Charter Review and this report will be an important contribution to that.”

The TV Licence Fee and Enforcement Review report can be found online at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tv-licence-enforcement-review-a-consultation. The Written Ministerial Statement made by the Secretary of State is on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-written-statements/.