Criminal sanctions against TV licence evasion are recognised as being “increasingly disproportionate and unfair,” the UK government said on Thursday in response to a public consultation on the matter.
However, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said that decriminalising licence evasion is “problematic,” so it “remains under consideration.”
“However, it wants to ensure that any future changes to the TV licence sanction or enforcement scheme are not seen as an invitation to evade the TV licence requirement, nor privilege the rule-breaking minority over the rule-abiding majority.”
Decriminalisation of TV license evasion will be a part of discussions to set the 2022–2027 licence fee with the BBC, which is primarily funded by the fee.
“Whilst the delivery of decriminalisation right now is problematic, we intend to keep looking at this as we negotiate the next Licence Fee settlement and push for the reforms at the BBC that the new leadership has recognised are needed,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said.
Criminal sanctions would be replaced with civil enforcement measures that have yet to be determined, but would need to be “sufficiently robust” to dissuade people from evading the licence, and could end up more costly for those caught without a licence.
The most common concern was that decriminalisation would have negative financial impact on the BBC.
The group also accused the government of prosecuting the vulnerable to save the BBC.
“In truth, they’ve actively chosen to continue discriminatory prosecution of the vulnerable to save the BBC.”
According to the government, 174,416 people were found watching TV without a license in 2019/20, and the current evasion rate is between 6.5 and 7.5 percent.
There was no one in prison for TV license evasion in England and Wales as at June 30, 2020, the government said. Around 91 people have been given custodial sentences from 2015 to 2018 in England and Wales.