BORIS Johnson and his Government will launch a public consultation to see whether non-payment of the BBC licence fee should be de-criminalised.
In 2018, more than 121,000 people were convicted and sentenced for licence fee evasion, with an average fine of £176 according to The Independent.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said that the BBC needs to “move with the times” or it could go the same way as collapsed video rental firm Blockbuster.”
“As we move into an increasingly digital age, with more and more channels to watch and platforms to choose from, the time has come to think carefully about how we make sure the TV licence fee remains relevant in this changing media landscape.” added Morgan.
“Many people consider it wrong that you can be imprisoned for not paying for your TV licence and that its enforcement punishes the vulnerable.”
“Today we are launching a public consultation to make sure we have a fair and proportionate approach to licence fee penalties and payments, that protects those most in need in society.”
Baroness Morgan added: “Accountability and value for money must be at the heart of how the BBC is funded”.
She added that the Government’s role was to “help public service broadcasters be better prepared to meet the challenges of the digital age”.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Referring to Blockbuster, which fell into administration in 2013, she wrote: “As the world around us changes, our laws must change too.”
“It will require the BBC to be innovative and to move with the times.”
From June next year, the current scheme of all over-75s receiving free TV licences will be restricted to those who claim pension credit.
The BBC has previously said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.
The move towards allowing flexible payments has been criticised by Age UK’s charity director Caroline Abrahams, who said that the new payment scheme will not necessarily help those who find it difficult to afford a licence.
She said: “If you are a pensioner in the position of struggling to pay an extra £157.50 a year for a licence, being able to spread out your payments will not change the fact that the sum is simply unaffordable on your low fixed income.”
In 2018, more than 121,000 people were convicted and sentenced for licence fee evasion and issued with an average fine of £176.
Last year there were about 26 million active TV licences in the UK, generating an income of £3.69 billion for the BBC.
Any move to decriminalise licence fee evasion will not come into effect until April 2022, according to the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport.
The department said: “The consultation does not ask for views on any other changes to the TV licence and is clear decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion would have an impact on BBC funding.”
A spokesman for the BBC attacked the plans and said: “A detailed Government-commissioned review found the current system to be the fairest and most effective.
“It did not recommend change – in part because the current system is effective in ensuring payment with very few people ever going to prison.”
In 2018 five people in England and Wales went to prison for not paying fines, he said, adding: “There is a question about what issue this repeat consultation is trying to solve.”
Any changes “must be fair to law-abiding licence fee payers and delivered in a way that doesn’t fundamentally undermine the BBC’s ability to deliver the services they love,” he said.
Additional Reporting by PA Media