Not paying BBC licence fee is STILL a crime: Plans to decriminalise non-payment are delayed amid fears bailiffs will target the elderly
- Ministers have postponed a move to decriminalise non-payment of licence fee
- The alternative would be a switch to a civil rather than a criminal system
- There are concerns this could be worse as the elderly may be hounded by bailiffs
Failure to pay the TV licence fee will remain a criminal offence for the time being – as the alternative could result in the elderly being hounded by bailiffs.
Ministers have postponed a move to decriminalise non-payment amid concerns that replacement punishments would actually be harsher.
Downing Street wants to wait until a new chairman has been installed at the BBC before making a final decision on whether to end the system of prosecuting those who do not pay.
The alternative would be to switch to a civil rather than a criminal system.
Ministers have postponed a move to decriminalise non-payment amid concerns that replacement punishments would actually be harsher [File photo]
But Boris Johnson’s aides are said to have now delayed the decision largely due to concerns that this could actually result in a harsher system.
A Whitehall source told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘There was a concern that moving to a civil enforcement regime might inadvertently create a worse outcome, particularly because of the risk of bailiffs ending up on the doorsteps of vulnerable people.
‘We are not pushing ahead now so it is likely that a new chairman will be in before any major shifts on this.’
At the start of the year, the Government carried out a consultation on whether criminal sanctions against those who fail to pay the £157.50 fee were still appropriate.
Officials cited concerns that the punishments were unfair and ‘disproportionate’.
One option could see the BBC introduce a subscription model which could see the licence fee gone altogether by 2027.
Earlier this year, Downing Street said the BBC’s shift to charging over-75s for television licences was ‘the wrong decision’, and that ‘they should be funded by the BBC’.
The departure of the Prime Minister’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings, and Lee Cain, his director of communications, who both favoured radical BBC reform, could see a softening of the Government’s relationship with the corporation.
The BBC ended free TV licences for most over-75s from 1 August, after a two-month delay due to the pandemic.
At the start of the year, the Government carried out a consultation on whether criminal sanctions against those who fail to pay the £157.50 fee were still appropriate [File photo]
The change meant more than three million households have been asked to start paying.
The BBC said the delay had cost the corporation £35million a month and the cost of continuing to provide the free service could have reached £1billion a year over time due to an ageing population.
Speaking this summer, BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said the decision to charge over-75s had ‘not been easy’, but that the broadcaster was under ‘severe financial pressure’.