The BBC has wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds on in a futile chase for licence fee non-payments, as one in every ten people accused of dodging the fee were never convicted, new figures from the Ministry of Justice have revealed.
Last year, more than 3,500 people a week faced prosecution for failing to pay the £145.50 a year tax; that’s more than a tenth of local magistrates’ workloads. But of those prosecutions, nearly 23,000 people were not convicted, the Daily Mail has reported. Some of those were found not guilty, while in other cases the BBC dropped the charges.
During the same period, 39 people were handed a jail sentence of 20 days on average, for non-payment. Attempts by the government to make non-payment a civil, rather than criminal offence failed earlier this year following opposition in the House of Lords, led by former employees of the Corporation.
Tory MP Bill Cash said the failed convictions were a waste of money, whatever the reason for their failure. “If 23,000 people get off, that’s 23,000 cases that should not have been brought, but have cost the BBC in administrative terms,” he said.
The figures reveal that the vast majority of those convicted are young people who may be watching BBC content on other platforms. More than 67,500 people under the age of 30 were charged with licence fee evasion last year, but in excess of 9,000 of those walked away without being convicted. At the other end of the scale, just 4,076 people over 60 were prosecuted, 623 of whom were let off.
Andrew Allison, head of campaigns for the Freedom Association, told Breitbart London: “TV Licensing assumes that everyone who doesn’t have a TV licence is breaking the law, and it tries to bully law abiding citizens into buying a licence when they don’t need one. The fact that so many cases are failing in front of magistrates proves how heavy handed TV Licensing is. It’s time for this TV tax to be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs”.
A BBC licensing spokesman said: “We are able catch people watching on any device.”
The figures come as the BBC is finding it harder than ever to justify its licence fee. Yesterday, online retailer Amazon announced that it had signed Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond to create a new ‘Top Gear’ style show following Clarkson’s sacking earlier this year. Launching in 2016, it will be pitted against the BBC’s Top Gear format, newly headed up by Chris Evans.
Commenting in the Telegraph, Allisdair Heath said “Next year’s launch could be remembered as the tipping point – the moment a new generation of content producers finally dethroned the old TV incumbents, and the BBC in particular.
“All of this is a major blow for the BBC’s model and rationale. Supporters of the current taxpayer-financed set-up argue that without public service broadcasting we would see a race to the bottom – but that is not what the investments that are increasingly being made by US entrants into the market would suggest.
“Thanks to new technology, it is now possible to produce cutting-edge content that is both extremely upmarket and commercially viable. It is also possible to produce water cooler, mainstream TV that was once the preserve of terrestrial players.”