Failing to pay for a Television License, which is effectively a tax to pay for the BBC, will cease to be illegal under plans being considered by ministers.
At the moment anyone who watches a TV in Britain but doesn’t pay the £145.50 annual charge can be fined £1000 and given a criminal record. If they then refuse to pay the fine they can be jailed.
Under the new proposal, which is backed by 100 MPs, anyone failing to pay a license will be dealt with by the civil rather than criminal court.
The reform will be fiercely resisted by BBC executives, who argue that it will increase licence fee “evasion” and lead to a significant reduction in their budget.
Recent figures show about 70 people a year are jailed for TV licence fee offences. But the scale of prosecutions for licence fee evasion is far higher and now accounts for one in nine of all Magistrates Court cases.
Around 3,500 people a week appeared before the Magistrates Courts in 2012, having been accused of watching television without a valid licence in. Around 155,000 are convicted and fined.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, told today’s Daily Telegraph: “The Culture Secretary and I both agree that this is a really interesting idea – particularly given the pressure on our courts system. Our departments will be doing some serious work on the proposal.”