Jail for failing to pay your TV licence

House of Lords votes to keep draconian punishments for failing to pay your TV licence

Updated: 
TV Licence penalty review

Failing to pay your TV licence will remain a criminal offence - which could land you in jail - after the House of Lords rejected the government's plans to decriminalise non-payment. The Lords narrowly voted to keep it a criminal offence - by 178 to 175.

The Daily Mail reported that instead they voted for an amendment put forward by Lord Grade - a former chairman of the BBC - that this measure ought to be considered as part of the wide-ranging Charter review, and no change should be made before the next licence fee settlement begins in April 2017.

Why the change?

The move towards decriminalisation was designed to relieve pressure on magistrates - as around 10% of their time is spent dealing with people who have not paid for their licence. In 2012, for example, more than 180,000 people appeared before the courts because of non-payment of their licence - and 155,000 of them were convicted and fined.

It was also intended to alleviate the pressure on people who are unable to pay. At the moment, anyone who doesn't pay for their licence can be fined up to £1,000 and will receive a criminal record. If they fail to pay the fine, they face jail. Around 70 people are jailed every year for not paying their TV licence - and campaigners have long-argued that the punishment is disproportionate to the crime and hits people in poverty unnecessarily hard.

Why not?

According to The Guardian, the Lords were swayed by arguments from Lord Grade, who warned that it could be devastating for funding of the BBC - which has estimated that the move could cost the organisation £200 million through higher rates of evasion.

Grade argued that it was the first step which would see the government move away from a compulsory licence and turn the BBC into a voluntary subscription service - which would cause irretrievable damage to the public service remit.

This may seem like a particularly pessimistic view, but the government has made noises before about possible changes to the licence fee. Most recently culture secretary Sajid Javid commented that "£145.50 is a lot of money for some people." There have been no specific proposals to cut it, or replace it with a voluntary payment, but it's safe to assume that all options remain on the table when the licence fee is renewed in 2017.

But what do you think? Should the punishment for non-payment be more severe than for failing to pay your council tax, or does the system need to change? Let us know in the comments.

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