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MPs move forward on licence fee decriminalisation plans

MPs have backed last-minute plans to allow the government to decriminalise non-payment of the TV Licence fee.

Backbench MP Andrew Bridgen’s amendment means the government will have to review the penalties for not paying your TV Licence after the Deregulation Bill is expected to become law, later this year.

The BBC welcomed the review, but warned that non-payment will spiral without criminal penalties, costing up to £200m a year in lost income.

MPs move forward on licence fee decriminalisation plans
Nice buildings for a world class broadcaster? The cheek of it!

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen won cross-party support for his amendment in the House of Commons committee scrutinising the bill, which must now be returned to the Commons for its final debate and approval, before it’s examined by the House of Lords.

The BBC said: “This approach is a sensible one as it means that all parties will be able to consider any changes to the current system with a clear understanding of the consequences that will follow – not least the potential impact on the services that the BBC is able to provide for its audiences.”

At present, non-payment of the licence fee can lead to prison, and Conservative MP Bridgen said this unfairly affects people who are too poor to pay. He told the committee the move would be ‘an opportunity, not a threat’.

According to Ministry of Justice figures, 164,932 people were found guilty of Licence Fee evasion in 2012, with 51 people being sent to prison for watching TV without a licence. 

Culture secretary Maria Miller will have three months to launch a review of TV Licence non-payment penalties after the bill receives Royal Assent.

The government is likely to want a report before the General Election in May 2015, but Bridgen;’s amendment sets no deadline for any recommendations to be implemented.

The BBC’s Royal Charter must be renewed by 2017, and the corporation had hoped that TV Licence payment would be included in those discussions.

The BBC Trust said: “This is an issue that should be discussed in the round, including the potential impact on licence fee income and BBC output, with any decisions made as part of the Charter review process. The clauses passed today seem to be in line with that.”

Image: Sarah Marshall/Flickr

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