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TV licence fee non-payment: should it be decriminalised?

Published Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Government has launched a consultation on decriminalising non-payment of the TV licence fee. This Library Paper looks at the current offence and what's been said on decriminalisation.

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At present, using 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 or considered, a person can be sent to jail for non-payment of a court-imposed fine.

Decriminalising the offence?

Decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee was looked at in 2014-15. An independent review (the “Perry Review”, July 2015) recommended that the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained for as long as the existing system of licence fee collection is in operation. The Government at the time accepted the recommendation.

DCMS consultation (February 2020)

On 5 February 2020 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched a consultation on decriminalising the offence. According to the DCMS, the time is right to look again at this given “ongoing concerns that the criminal sanction is unfair and disproportionate”.

In reaching a decision, the DCMS has said that it will 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; and
  • the overall impact on licence fee collection.

The consultation closes on 1 April 2020.

Related Library Briefings




Commons Briefing papers SN06860

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Broadcasting

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