Ministers ‘reviewing licence fee evasion sanction’

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The government will consider whether failure to pay the TV licence fee should cease to be a criminal offence, a Treasury minister has said.

Rishi Sunak confirmed 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 £200m a year.

The Sunday Telegraph reported the consultation had been ordered by the PM after the Conservatives won a majority of 80 at last week’s election.

Asked whether non-payment of the fee should be decriminalised, Mr Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “That is something the prime minister has said we will look at, and has instructed people to look at that”.

“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,” he said.

The BBC was an “incredibly important national institution,” Mr Sunak said, but enforcement of licence fee payment was something “specific that we can and should look at”.

He said 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.

But he added: “How people consume media is changing, and it is of course right we continue to look at those things over time.”

Income from the licence fee was worth £3.6bn to the BBC in the last financial year, accounting for approximately 75% of the broadcaster’s revenues.

‘General taxation’

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he thought replacing the licence fee entirely needs “looking at”.

“You have to ask yourself whether that approach to funding a media company still makes sense in the long term given the way that other organisations manage to fund themselves,” he said.

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“The system of funding out of what is a general tax bears reflection”.

A BBC spokesman said a previous government review had recommended against changing the criminal sanctions regime for the licence fee system.

“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 spokesman said.

“The review also found that non-payment cases accounted for ‘a minute fraction’ – only 0.3% – of court time.”

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