The UK government is considering whether failure to pay the TV licence fee should cease to be a criminal offence, Treasury minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed.
Sunak revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a review of the sanction for non-payment of the £154.50 charge, which funds the BBC.
Prosecution for non-payment of the fee can currently end in a court appearance and potential fine of up to £1,000. But the BBC warned decriminalisation could cost it £200 million a year.
A BBC spokesman said the existing criminal sanctions regime should be maintained, commenting: “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 per cent – of court time.”
A non-payment fine could be transferred to civil law under new legistlation, meaning it would still be charged, but wouldn’t lead to a criminal record or custodial sentence.
The consultation had been ordered by Johnson after the Conservatives won a majority of 80 at last week’s election.
Johnson will not be able to make bigger changes to the BBC’s funding model until 2027 given the corporation’s operating agreement is only reviewed once a decade.