The BBC must be rubbing its hands with glee at the news that a Government Review has recommended the retention of the existing TV licence enforcement system.
The Review, headed by barrister David Perry QC, sought public opinion on six different models of TV licence enforcement:
- Do nothing: retain the current criminal enforcement system.
- Reform of the current system: leave the current offence as it stands, but reform the current criminal enforcement system.
- Out-of-court settlement: retain the criminal offence, with an option of disposal by way of an out-of-court settlement.
- Fixed monetary penalty: retain the criminal offence, with an option of disposal by way of a fixed monetary penalty.
- Civil monetary penalty: decriminalise and enforce as a civil infraction.
- Civil debt: decriminalise and enforce as a civil debt.
TV Licence Resistance, LicenceFree.co.uk and the TV Licensing Blog prepared a joint response to the public consultation, where we outlined our opposition to the current enforcement regime.
In particularly we highlighted systemic weaknesses in TV Licensing's prosecution process, including the fact that its employees - several of whom have been convicted of theft and fraud - are incentivised to obtain results.
Publishing his Review earlier today, David Perry QC said: "Following a detailed assessment of the various policy options the Review has concluded that there should be no fundamental change in the sanctions regime as it applies to the current licence fee collection system. The current regime represents a broadly fair and proportionate response to the problem of licence fee evasion and provides good value for money both for licence fee payers and taxpayers.
"This Review has taken place shortly in advance of an in-depth review of the BBC’s Royal Charter. Any change to the method of licence fee collection is likely to have an impact on the viability of introducing a non-criminal scheme of enforcement. It is to be hoped that the recommendations and observations made in this report will be of assistance to those involved in the Charter Review."
Other Review recommendations include:
- TV Licensing should explore ways to target unlicensed household visits more effectively, to increase the likelihood of an enquiry officer making contact with occupiers.
- The BBC and Government should explore ways to investigate and consider the gender disparity in TV licence prosecutions. Research shows that around seven out of ten of those prosecuted were women, although the Review found no evidence to suggest that enforcement activity is unfairly and intentionally targeted at women.
- The Government, in conjunction with the BBC, should explore ways of amending the current regulations to allow simple and flexible payment plans for those facing difficulty in paying the licence fee.
- Consideration should be given to the introduction of a requirement for cable and satellite TV companies to share their subscription information with TV Licensing in order to improve the investigation and enforcement process.
- TV Licensing should consider increasing the transparency of its prosecution and enforcement policy, and provide clearer guidance to those at risk of prosecution.
- The Charter Review should look at non-linear viewing as a matter of urgency.
The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale MP, said: "I am most grateful to David Perry QC for producing a very thorough analysis of the practicalities and consequences of decriminalisation. This is an issue which we will wish to consider carefully as part of the Charter Review and this report will be an important contribution to that."
The Government will now respond to the Review within three months.
We are exceptionally disappointed with Perry's recommendations.