Bid to reform TV licence penalty

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Culture Secretary Sajid Javid will question whether TV licence fee enforcement “is really working” in a speech today and announce a review of the present system which will pave the way for decriminalising non-payment.

The minister will tell the Royal Television Society (RTS) the Government is “committed” to changing the system.

He will say: ” In 2012/13, almost 200,000 people ended up in court accused of not buying a TV licence.

“More than 50 were sent to prison. When over 10% of magistrates’ court cases concern this one offence, you have to ask whether the current system is really working. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

“The Government is committed to launching a review of decriminalisation once the Deregulation Bill receives Royal Assent. But we can’t afford to wait that long. This needs to begin now.

“Very shortly I will be publishing the terms of reference for a review of TV licence enforcement. I expect it to begin taking evidence in the autumn, and to conclude early in the next Parliament.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the Charter Review. I want to ensure that, when it begins, it has a solid evidence base on which to draw. This will allow it to shape the future of the BBC in a way that works for both the Corporation and those who pay for it.”

Decriminalisation has been backed by both Conservatives and Labour, although Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has struck a cautious note about the move, highlighting BBC concerns that anything that encouraged evasion could reduce the broadcaster’s income and lead to services being axed.

T he BBC’s director of strategy and digital, James Purnell, has questioned some of the arguments presented by those pushing for the change – suggesting the impact on court time was far less than supposed.

“One of the ‘facts’ that has been used is that this is taking up 10% of court cases. We think it may turn out that the time is much less than that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM.

“The last fact we saw was that it took up 0.3% of time because most of these cases are processed pretty quickly, about three minutes on average.”

A BBC spokesman said: “This is an important issue and the review must be thorough and not rushed.

“Licence fee evasion is low which maximises investment in the programmes and services that audiences love. Changing the system could lead to higher evasion, so it’s important that any decisions are made as part of the Charter Review process. We look forward to working with the review.”

And a BBC Trust spokeswoman added: “As the trust has said before, this is an issue that should be discussed in the round, including the potential impact on licence fee income and BBC output, with any decisions made as part of the Charter Review process.

“We look forward to engaging fully with this review when the time comes.”

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