The news that ministers are looking to debate whether non-payment of the TV licence fee should become a civil offence has sparked a great deal of debate and interest. While the BBC will have a lot to say about this matter, everyone is affected. Whether a person pays (or doesn’t pay their licence fee), they are likely to have an opinion on this matter. There is also the fact that it can have a huge impact on the way that the court system and solicitor firms are run.
If an offence is possibly moving from being considered as a criminal offence to being a civil offence, it is something that many law firms and clients will be keen to find out more about. This is why the news that ministers are debating whether non-payment of the TV licence should be classed as a civil offence as opposed to a criminal offence is something that is of extreme relevancy and importance.
There may be people who will jokingly suggest that the real criminals with respect to the TV licence fee are the people who take the funding and make terrible shows, but of course, that is purely a matter of opinion. The BBC receives funding and makes a broad range of TV and radio shows for people of all backgrounds and interests. Of course, the level of funding the BBC receives has been in the news of late with the revelations that the organisation is set to make their BBC3 channel an online only channel. There have also been rumours about the continued existence of BBC Four. This is why there is so much focus on the licence fee and Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, has launched claims that the licence fee should be decriminalised. At the very least Miller is looking for the matter to be debated.
BBC doesn’t believe it should be a Civil Matter
The BBC has countered with the fact that making this offence a civil offence, as opposed to being a criminal offence would likely lead to an increase in the number of people who do not pay their licence. Figures released for 2012 suggest that close to 155,000 people across the United Kingdom received a conviction and a fine for not paying their licence fee. In total, 180,000 people were said to have prosecuted for failing to pay their TV licence. This is a colossal sum of people, in fact, this amount of convictions accounts for more than 1 in every 10 prosecutions of a criminal nature that took place in 2012. The BBC may not be in favour of the proposed change, but it is easy to see that such a move could release a large amount of pressure on the courts.
This topic has been a pressing one for many people, and in October of 2013, the Huffington Post went public with the findings of a FOI request. This request detailed that there had been 107 jail sentences passed out to people for failing to pay their licence fee between the January of 2011 and March of 2013.
Justice Secretary believes this will help the Courts
Chris Grayling is the Justice Secretary, and he believes that making this switch could alleviate a terrific deal of pressure that is currently being placed on the courts. This means there is likely to be a groundswell of support for this suggestion, and it may be that the BBC doesn’t get to have much say in the matter.
If the offence does become a civil matter, it is likely that offenders will be punished by a fine. The level of this fine will be set by the Government, and it will still represent a punishment for anyone caught in this situation. Whether it creates enough of a punishment is open to debate, and this is certainly something that the BBC will argue against. There is no doubt that the licence fee is crucial for the BBC to provide its service but with more media options being made available, the importance and relevancy of the BBC and the way that they are funded will be discussed on a more regular basis.
That argument needn’t interfere with the debate over whether the offence should be a civil or criminal offence but it is likely that both elements will overlap as both parties try to make their point.
Andrew Reilly is a freelance writer with a focus on news stories and consumer interest articles. He has been writing professional for 8 years but has been writing for as long as he can care to remember. When Andrew isn’t sat behind a laptop or researching a story, he will be found watching a gig or a game of football.