- Boris Johnson looks at decriminalising UK TV licence
- Conservative government reviewing sanction of non-payment
- BBC warns abolishing the fee would cost £200m a year
The UK government is looking at decriminalising the non-payment of TV licences, a move which would potentially hit BBC funding hard.
In the UK, the current law states that the TV licence is payable by anyone who owns a television, regardless of whether or not they use the BBC’s services.
Failure to obtain a TV licence can lead to fines of £1,000 and even imprisonment.
According to Rishi Sunak, one of the newly confirmed government’s Treasury representatives, Boris Johnson has begun a full review of the BBC TV Licence and the punishment for not having one.
Johnson has ordered a review of the sanction for non-payment of the £154.50 charge, which links directly to the BBC’s funding.
Last financial year it was recorded that 25.8 million households had TV licences which brought in £3.6 billion for the BBC.
In a report by the BBC, it has warned that decriminalising the fee could cost the broadcaster £200 million a year.
Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “The Prime Minister has said we will look at [the TV licence regulation] and has instructed people to look at that.”
He added: “I think it’s fair to say people find the criminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee to be something that has provoked questions in the past.”
In 2015, the previous government reviewed whether a fine or non-payment could be issued under civil law instead, similar to the fees for breaking parking, bus lane and congestion charge rules.
It recommended against changing the criminal sanctions regime, saying decriminalisation could bring with it an increased risk of evasion.
A BBC spokesman said: “The government has already commissioned a QC to take an in-depth look at this matter and he found that ‘the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained’ and that it is fair and value for money to licence fee payers.
“The review also found that non-payment cases accounted for ‘a minute fraction’ – only 0.3% – of court time.
“Decriminalisation could also mean we have at least £200 million less to spend on programmes and services our audiences love.”
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Sunak did not elaborate on an alternative method that could be used to enforce payment of the TV licence.
He also added that he would not “speculate” on the long-term future of the licence fee itself, adding that it had been “secured” through to 2027, when the current Royal Charter governing the corporation ends.
“How people consume media is changing, and it is of course right we continue to look at those things over time.”
The BBC’s current financial arrangements are in place until 2027. Johnson was re-elected in a landslide victory after a general election on Thursday.