Is the BBC clogging up courtrooms?

I have always been an admirer of the BBC and their advertisement free broadcasting; there is little better than watching a film or TV programme uninterrupted. Therefore the annual £145.50 fee presents no problems to me personally.

It therefore came as a shock to me to learn that one in ten, or around 182,000, criminal prosecutions last year were a result of non-payment of the license fee. If you own a television and watch TV or indeed stream live TV online, you’re forced to pay the fee or face criminal charges. The figure has risen steadily and will continue to rise for the foreseeable future as TV Licensing continuously improves its ability to detect those who are watching television without a license. The BBC states that around “400,000” individuals are watching television without paying the fee and nearly half of those were prosecuted last year.

Anyone who does not own a TV License is eligible for a £1,000 fine or even a prison sentence if things are escalated in the courts. This seems interesting to me when you consider the recent BBC pay-offs, many executives receiving close to £1,000,000 in severance deals while ordinary families are dragged through court and face criminal records over such a small sum of money.

Many have thrown accusation at the BBC for jamming the courts, which are needed to deal with more serious matters. There are examples of murder trials being delayed for months at a time due to overcrowding. While I will accept that the law is the law and must be adhered to, I cannot help but think that 182,000 people made to appear before the courts over £145.50 is a bit extreme.

I postulate two solutions to this problem. The first is inspired by Lord Pearson who seeks to decriminalize the non-payment of the TV license. If you receive a parking ticket you have 28 days to pay the full amount. If you fail to do so, you will receive a reminder and possible increase of up to 50%. If you continue to ignore these fines, you will be summoned to court. Why not introduce something along these lines for TV Licensing and free up some time in the court, particularly for those who may not be able to afford it.

Secondly, why don’t the BBC modernize their approach to TV Licensing? Could they not place a block on receiving channels until confirmation of purchasing a license? Could they not introduce a user name and password for online viewing?

I am neither a technical nor a legal expert. Perhaps the BBC have seriously looked into these options and failed to devise a cost effective or efficient solution. The BBC also argues that the cases are dealt with in mass and are resolved extremely quickly; making the figure of 182,000 cases seem much worse than the reality of the situation. Either way, something must be done to cease the absurd number of cases being taken to court over what is tantamount to a minor offence.

Joshua Rowlands


  1. The idea of encrypting BBC content has arisen a few times recently, but in doing so they would severely dent the £3.5 billion in licence fee revenue they currently receive on a plate each year.

    A licence is only needed by those people receiving television programme services. It is not a licence to own a TV (or anything else for that matter).

    Offenders cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion unless they default on the fines, which is a separate offence.


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