Less than a week into the new Conservative majority government and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has reiterated plans to decriminalise TV licence fee evasion.
As the law stands at the moment, a TV licence is required for all properties where equipment is installed or used to receive TV programmes. Anyone caught receiving TV programmes without a valid licence faces criminal prosecution, which can ultimately (in theory, never in practice) result in a fine of up to £1,000.
In 2012 more than 180,000 people appeared in Magistrates' Courts in England and Wales charged with TV licence evasion. Of those, around 155,000 were convicted and fined. TV licence evasion cases accounted for more than 1 in 10 of all criminal prosecutions, which has raised concerns that they place an excessive burden on valuable court time.
During the last Parliament Conservative politicians made several attempts to bring forward legislation decriminalising TV licence fee evasion. Recently, in accordance with the requirements of the Deregulation Act 2015, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid MP, ordered a review into the system of TV licence enforcement. The review, which is being conducted by barrister David Perry QC, is currently in the consultation stage and should present its findings to Parliament later this year.
Today's Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister's official spokesman has reaffirmed the Government's commitment to decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion.
The Prime Minster has also promoted John Whittingdale MP, an outspoken critic of both the TV licence fee and BBC, to take over Mr Javid's role as Secretary of State. For the last five years Mr Whittingdale has chaired the influential House of Commons Culture Select Committee, which has challenged the BBC over a range of issues. Mr Whittingdale has previously likened TV Licensing's tactics to those of the Gestapo and recently described the TV licence fee as "ultimately unsustainable" and "worse than the poll tax".
Downing Street sources are reported as saying that Mr Whittingdale will "sort out the BBC" ahead of the Corporation's Royal Charter renewal in 2016. In particular, it looks increasingly likely that the freeze in the cost of the TV licence fee will be extended.
There are interesting times ahead for the BBC.