TV licence Fines explained

magis guide

Fines (in general) are based on one of three bands (A, B or C). Judges choose which one to apply according to the duration of the offence. In the case of TV licence evasion:

  • Up to 6 months without a TV licence: a “band A” fine will apply.
  • Over 6 months: the starting point will be “band B”.
Starting point Range Fine
Fine Band A 50% of relevant weekly income 25 – 75% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band B 100% of relevant weekly income 75 – 125% of relevant weekly income

TV licence evasion is a level 3 fine. That simply means the maximum fine is £1,000.

The offender’s financial circumstances are taken into account.  When an offender’s only source of income is state benefits, or £110 or less (income after deduction of tax and national insurance), the relevant weekly income is deemed to be £110 for the sake of the calculation of the fine.

If a Guilty Plea is made, the level of the reduction should reflect the stage at which it is made. (There is a presumption that the recommended reduction will be given unless there are good reasons for a lower amount.)

  • Guilty plea was entered at the first reasonable opportunity = 1/3 off
  • Where a trial date has been set = 1/4 off
  • Guilty plea entered at the ‘door of the court’ or after the trial has begun = 1/10 off

Court costs and a victim surcharge will be added on top, but they may not be recovered, depending on the financial situation of the criminal.

Example of fines recently given:

£37 fine, plus £120 costs and a £20 victim surcharge (reduced fine because of early guilty plea)

– £200 fine, plus £90 costs and a £20 victim surcharge

– £500 fine, plus £120 costs and a £50 victim surcharge

The average fine is £170 in England and Wales.

As the punishment does not include the obligation to buy a TV licence afterwards, the average fine turns out to be just £25 higher than the price of buying a TV licence in the first place. That’s not brilliant news since the paperwork and the work force required to try to claw back the fee plus the 25 quid is not free in the first place and requires precious court time that could be used for trials for real crimes. To make matter worse, court records shows that less than 35% of TV licence fines are actually recovered [1].

But the most upsetting element of TV licence enforcement is the criminal consequences. For the sake of this theoretical average gain of £25 quid, the BBC is happy to relentlessly chase people, press charges and even send them to prison. That’s right: offenders who don’t pay the fine imposed as punishment can be jailed. This is an all-round loose/loose situation: it costs the tax payer an average of £95 per day to keep one person behind bars and the BBC gains nothing, except perhaps fear and disgust at how insensitive it really is.

Here’s how the duration of prison sentences is calculated:

Maximum periods of imprisonment in default of payment
Amount not exceeding £200 7 days
Amount exceeding £200 but not exceeding £500 14 days
Amount exceeding £500 but not exceeding £1,000 28 days
Amount exceeding £1,000 but not exceeding £2,500 45 days
Amount exceeding £2,500 but not exceeding £5,000 3 months
Amount exceeding £5,000 but not exceeding £10,000 6 months
Amount exceeding £10,000 12 months

This is why the Magistrates’ Association has been calling for the decriminalisation of TV licence evasion for nearly 20 years. They feel that evaders are punished disproportionately. It’s a shame the BBC is turning a deaf ear.

Tony Hall, the current Director General (Chief Executive) of the BBC, said any change to the TV licence fee needs to be conscious of some £200 million expected to be lost.

Now that the elections are over, negotiations for the renewal of BBC’s charter have started. If you would like to have your say on this matter, there is petition, called End the BBC Licence Fee, hosted on 38 Degrees.

Source: Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines Sentencing Guidelines

[1] Chart B.1 – Proportion of fine amount owed collected within a year for the top ten most commonly occurring offence types in the matched data, Criminal Court Statistics Quarterly, England and Wales, July to September 2014


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