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UK shelves BBC licence decriminalisation

January 22, 2021

UK government has shelved its plans to decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence fee but will keep the issue under “active consideration”.

DCMS secretary, Oliver Dowden, has been persuaded said switching to a civil enforcement risked being seen as an invitation to evade the fee and could reward those who declined to pay. But he did say the government remained concerned that a criminal sanction was “disproportionate and unfair”.

The issue will be revisited as part of licence fee negotiations between 2022 and 2027, when the BBC’s royal charter expires.

The government launched a consultation in February last year, and received 154,478 responses from individuals, campaign organisations and other stakeholders. The BBC believes licence fee evasion from switching to a civil system would cost it more than £1 billion and lead to significant cuts to programmes and services.

Dowden said: “After carefully considering the responses received, the government remains concerned that a criminal sanction for TV licence evasion is increasingly disproportionate and unfair in a modern public service broadcasting system.”

There has long been concern that custodial sentences following fine non-payments affect mainly on the most vulnerable.

“The consultation responses showed that a significant number of people oppose the criminal sanction, with some highlighting the considerable stress and anxiety it can cause for individuals, including for the most vulnerable in society, such as older people. However, the government recognises that changing the sanction for TV licence evasion would have wide-ranging impacts for licence fee payers, including the potential for significantly higher fines and costs for individuals who evade the licence fee requirement under a civil regime,” added Dowden.

The BBC said: “The current system remains the fairest and most effective. The responses to the government’s consultation shows the majority back the current system. The BBC will fully engage with the government going forward on how we can continue to play an important role for the public.”

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