'Thousands' use legal loophole to block TV licensing visits

TV License stock

As MPs prepare to discuss the future of the TV licence, it's been revealed that thousands of householders have taken advantage of a legal loophole to bar enforcement staff from their properties.

Homeowners have the legal ability to remove the 'implied right of access' to their front doorstep, allowing them to sue licence fee collectors if they persist. And a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Mail has revealed that around 7,300 people have removed that right - the vast majority in the last two years.
According to the TV Licensing authority, around one in 20 people evades the fee. The BBC estimates that, as a result, £196 million of revenue was lost in 2009-10, the last year for which figures are available. But many viewers - including no less a figure than Keira Knightley - complain that they are harassed by collectors, despite not owning a television in the first place.

Currently, non-payment of the £145.50 licence fee is a criminal offence, and can lead to a £1,000 fine, with jail if it remains unpaid. But Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire Andrew Bridgen has led calls to decriminalise non-payment and make it a civil offence instead. Claiming that the problem is clogging up the courts, he points out that it represents around 12 percent of all magistrates' cases.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Bridgen suggested that "the continued criminalisation of people whose only crime is being poor is completely untenable". More than 150 MPs from all three major parties are supporting the move.

Tomorrow, MPs are set to debate an amendment to the Deregulation Bill which would decriminalise non-payment of the fee from 2016. Instead, offenders would pay a penalty fee to the BBC. But the BBC has warned that this could cost the corporation as much as £200 million - meaning a higher licence fee or the loss of programming.

"It's right that these proposals are up for discussion and that there's a proper review," says a BBC sopkesman. "Our position is that it would cost us a lot of money if evasion doubled from the current rate - which is based on other similar issues like non-payment of utilities."

Ministers will carry out a review into licence fee evasion which should be completed within a year. According to reports, one option under consideration is to block BBC channels for viewers who fail to pay up. This would be costly, though, involving upgrading existing set-top boxes.
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