Liz Truss promises to look into decriminalising TV licence evasion

Liz Truss speaking at an event in Leeds as part of her campaign to be leader of the Conservative Party and the next prime minister. Picture date: Thursday July 28, 2022.
Liz Truss has promised to look at the punishment for licence fee evasion. (PA)

Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss has promised to look into decriminalising TV licence evasion over concerns of how the offence disproportionately affects women, if she becomes prime minister.

Currently, anyone who watches live TV or BBC iPlayer has to pay an annual fee of £159, or face a court appearance and fine of up to £1,000, which can turn into jail time if the fine is not paid.

Recent figures have shown the offence is far more likely to affect women than men – with 22.61% of all crimes committed by women in 2020 being licence fee evasion.

In comparison, 2.15% of all crimes committed by men were licence fee evasion.

Ministry of Justice figures show there is currently no one behind bars for the offence.

Tory leadership hopeful Truss said she would "look at all the options" to overhaul the system in the hope of making it fairer.

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Rishi Sunak speaking at an event at Exeter University as part of his campaign to be leader of the Conservative Party and the next prime minister. Picture date: Monday August 1, 2022.
Rishi Sunak has said he would look at scrapping the fee altogether. (PA)

She told Mail+: "What I’m very concerned about on the TV licence fee is how many women have ended up in prison for non-payment, a disproportionate number.

"I want to look at how we can make sure that we reform the TV licence fee, so we don’t end up with those punitive results. I’ll look at all the options... I do want to reform the way it works."

A 10-year BBC Charter means the licence fee cannot be abolished before 2027.

The independent Perry Review in 2015 found that the current system was "fair and proportionate", recommending the prosecution guidelines should continue to be followed for "as long as the existing system of licence fee collection [is] in operation".

The Conservative government at the time - led by David Cameron - accepted the findings.

Leadership rival Rishi Sunak has said he will look at scrapping the licence altogether if he is to become prime minister.

But culture secretary Nadine Dorries, who is backing Truss to become leader, claimed this week that Sunak had blocked the review during his time as chancellor.

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File photo dated 21/01/20 of the BBC Broadcasting House in London. There will be job cuts as BBC News and BBC World News merge to create a single 24-hour TV channel, the broadcaster has announced. The cuts are part of measures to save money after Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years. Issue date: Thursday July 14, 2022.
A ten-year BBC Charter means the licence fee cannot be abolished before 2027. (PA)

Ministers had launched a consultation in February 2020 over concerns the "criminal sanction is unfair and disproportionate", but decided not to move forward with plans.

Dorries said that Sunak "refused to sign off" on a fresh review and blocked it for "many months."

She added: "I appealed to Rishi but he refused to budge. I spoke to him again just after cabinet on the morning of the day he launched his coup.

"He flashed me that smile and said something which amounted to nothing.

Meanwhile in France, the government has voted to scrap its own TV licence in an effort to help with the cost of living crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the opening ceremony for the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. Picture date: Monday November 1, 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron has scrapped France's licence fee. (PA)

The fee funds nearly 85% of the annual budgets of French public broadcasters, but the abolition was proposed by newly re-elected president Emmanuel Macron as part of his manifesto.

In 2022, the licence free brought in €3.2bn (£2.67bn), but will now be funded by what Macron said was a "fraction of VAT".

A BBC spokesman said: "There is always a debate to be had about the best way to manage non-payment of the licence fee, but the independent Perry Review [of 2015] found the current system to be fair and proportionate, and according to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, nobody is in prison for not paying the licence fee."