Decriminalising BBC licence fee evasion will impact on viewers, warns Bectu

28 February 2020

Making people pay the BBC licence fee through civil enforcement rather than the current criminal system will result in a negative outcome for viewers, says Bectu.

Bectu, as the largest union within the BBC, has made this warning in its wider submission to a public consultation into decriminalising the TV licence fee.

In its submission – to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – Bectu highlights that setting up a new civil enforcement system:

would be more expensive than the current criminal system

would lead to greater licence fee evasion, meaning less money for the BBC to meet its public purpose

could confuse  the public into believing that non-payment of the licence fee is no longer an offence.

Baroness Nicky Morgan, who was then Culture Secretary, launched the public consultation into decriminalising TV licence fee evasion at the start of February. Part of the reasoning behind it is to explore whether “we have a fair and proportionate approach to licence fee penalties and payments, that protects those most in need in society”, she explained.

The Bectu submission includes details of the number of prosecutions and people being imprisoned for non-payment of the fine for licence fee evasion. For example, in 2017 five people were imprisoned and no one was imprisoned in 2018.

Under the current Capita contract the costs of licence collection during the period 2012/13 to 2018/19 have been below 3% of revenue in every year except one.

The current evasion rate is 6.6% and during the period 2010-2019 has remained between 5.2% and 7% on a UK wide basis. The number of complaints received about TV licensing also decreased by half during the same period.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “Bectu has comprehensively looked at the information available about decriminalising the licence fee and there is nothing to justify why that should happen.

“The consultation is being conducted on a false premise and may give people the idea that they can choose whether or not to pay the licence fee.

“The current system is well understood by the public. It is efficient, provides value for money for both licence fee payers and the taxpayer, as well as a predictable revenue stream for the BBC.

“The government is misguided in thinking that a discussion about decriminalising the licence fee feeds into wider concerns about the BBC remaining relevant in the media landscape. If the government wants such a wide-ranging debate about the future of the BBC and the efficacy of the TV licence model then it makes no sense to look at decriminalisation in isolation.”

Bectu is encouraging people who want to respond themselves to the consultation to use Bectu’s own submission as a template. Read Bectu’s submission here.

To submit your own response to the DCMS, click here.