Decriminalisation of BBC licence fee non-payment moves a step closer

Non-payment of the BBC licence fee could be decriminalised and reclassified as a civil offence following pressure from MPs.

Campaign: Licence fee non-payment could become a civil breach

Under the new Deregulation Bill, which will be voted on by MPs next week, a formal review of the law and a consultation will begin within three months and take a year to complete, meaning findings will form part of renewal negotiations of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2017.

The move was prompted by a campaign from Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who tabled a joint amendment to the Deregulation Bill with solicitor general Oliver Heald calling for a review, and his calls have been backed by 150 MPs.

The department for culture, media and sport said decriminalisation was an “interesting idea”, although deputy prime minister Nick Clegg warned against any moves that might “lessen the signal that people should pay their licence fee”.

However, a spokesman for 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. This amendment appears to be in line with that.”

A BBC spokesperson added: "These amendments make clear that the decriminalisation issue will be reviewed once the bill has passed and no decisions will be taken until Charter review."

More than one in 10 criminal prosecutions last year were against people accused of evading payment of the £145.50 licence fee, with 155,000 people convicted and fined.

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