TV LICENCE EVASION, THE NORTHERN IRISH FILE

The number of households without a TV licence is rapidly increasing. It is rumoured that the BBC’s loss are hitting its funding harder than previously expected, with a £150M loss due to what is referred to as the “Catch-up TV loophole”. At any given time, there are at least 5.6 million UK addresses (out of 31 million) without a TV licence.

The BBC claims to catch 900 evaders every day.

In England and Wales, 185,580 people were prosecuted in 2014. In Scotland, where the law is slightly different, 32 were prosecuted, whereas 13,486 cases were disposed of via out of court fine.  In Northern Ireland, 4,905 people were prosecuted in 2014.  I personally think it’s a disgrace to even prosecute one person for the sake of making television. Clearly, this is not a case where the end justifies the means.

NI at a glance

PROSECUTION
Results from a Freedom of Information Requests shows that most of Northern Irish evaders are located in Belfast. More surprisingly, is the fact that 70% of them are females. This 30%-70% male/female ratio observed in Northern Ireland, is at odd with statistics for other small crimes, but is pretty much the same across the whole of UK for this crime. It is not clear if women are more targeted by TV licence officers, but, statistically, they are more likely to be at home during day time, taking care of children for example. Women might also be more trusting and willing to sort out their TV licence when prompted, ending up being the victims of this system.

RESULTS IN DETAILS

DEFENDANTS PROSECUTED FOR AN OFFENCE OF ‘NO TV LICENCE’,

by gender, age band and court division, Northern Ireland

2014

Gender Age Band Division
Belfast Londonderry Antrim Fermanagh and Tyrone Armagh and South Down Ards Craigavon Total
Count Count Count Count Count Count Count Count
Female Under 18 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2
18-19 15 5 4 4 2 2 5 37
20-24 146 35 69 51 32 63 42 438
25-29 212 76 77 78 55 83 84 665
30-34 157 74 65 94 52 69 81 592
35-39 144 45 46 71 38 38 55 437
40-49 211 112 89 126 55 83 70 746
50-59 139 52 46 53 33 46 41 410
60-69 22 11 4 10 9 9 12 77
70-79 2 1 1 1 1 0 0 6
80-89 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
90+ 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 2
Not recorded 18 5 4 6 2 4 2 41
Total 1,067 417 406 494 279 398 392 3,453
Male Under 18 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
18-19 4 2 3 3 3 2 1 18
20-24 47 13 23 18 14 13 14 142
25-29 66 20 28 26 21 33 20 214
30-34 62 18 24 25 26 31 19 205
35-39 39 24 19 35 12 25 24 178
40-49 95 43 50 55 39 55 44 381
50-59 49 12 26 30 30 33 19 199
60-69 17 6 2 8 6 8 6 53
70-79 2 0 0 2 0 0 0 4
80-89 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
90+ 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Not recorded 15 4 3 9 3 4 3 41
Total 397 142 179 211 154 204 150 1,437
UNKNOWN 5 2 4 1 0 2 1 5
Total 1,469 561 589 706 433 604 543 4,905

CONVICTION

An astonishing number of the prosecutions that are commenced by the BBC do not result in conviction. 1,286 people were wrongly prosecuted of committing a TV licence offence last year in Northern Ireland. This means over 1 in 4 are either dropped or withdrawn by the BBC, or people were not found guilty. The very large number of ‘unsuccessful’ prosecutions brought lends weight to the view that cases are initiated on a speculative basis where it is hoped by the BBC that people will plead guilty or won’t contest the prosecution. This surely is a scandalous abuse of the court’s process by the BBC.

The cost of pursuing these failed prosecutions, added to the cost of the legal process, again calls into question the methods used against TV licence evaders.

Defendants proceeded against and found guilty at all courts, by age group,

2014

COURT DIVISION Proceeded against Found guilty Unsuccessful
Belfast 1,469 1157 312
Londonderry 561 395 166
Antrim 589 428 161
Fermanagh and Tyrone 706 491 215
Armagh and South Down 433 301 132
Ards 604 475 129
Craigavon 543 372 171
TOTAL 4,905 3,619 1,286

IMPRISONMENT

Fines, for TV licence evasion, can be as high as £1,000, but as they are based on the criminal’s income, the average fine is, according to the BBC itself, £170. If this fine is not paid, the TV licence evader may end up in jail. In 2012, there were 50 people imprisoned for this crime in England and Wales, at an average cost to the tax payer of £95 per day. In comparison, the situation in Northern Ireland, up to 2012, was positively appalling, with over 200 imprisonment each year. A Judicial Review led to a temporary suspension of fine defaulters being sent to prison, putting a stop to the unsustainable practice of giving jail time for non-payment of outstanding fines of as little as £5. Now, fine default warrants are being issued, only if the defendant is already in prison serving a sentence or if they live outside the jurisdiction.

Number of defendants committed to prison for

FAILURE TO PAY A FINE ARISING FROM TV LICENCE EVASION (1)

Year Number of defendants committed to prison Length of sentence (range)
2011 206 2 to 28 days
2012 228 3 to 28 days
2013 18 7 to 14 days
2014 1 7 days

The British parliament proposed decriminalising the offence once and for all, but the proposition was turned down by a House of Lords vote by 178 to 175 in February 2015.

PLANNING FORWARD

The definition of TV licence payer, as it stands, includes every person in the UK who watches, listens to or uses TV receiving equipment to watch or record live television programmes. The current government have made it clear that they intend to extend this definition to cover people who choose to restrict their viewing habits to Catch-Up TV, using the German Household levy as an inspiration. In their view, a system which forces everyone to pay, regardless if a TV is owned or not, is fairer. They base this “fact” on a wild extrapolation from a microscopic sample of people using insignificant length of time. Indeed, since 2011, the BBC has been claiming that 96% of the population uses one of their services on a weekly basis. What they keep to themselves is the fact they are using a weekly survey of 500 people and consider that 15 min qualifies as “reach”.  In a nutshell, a household levy doesn’t reduce the monthly fee and still relies on bullying and threats, therefore, it doesn’t address most of the TV licence problems. It only adds the fresh hell of the complete lack of freedom on top of the other issues.

The “Free licence” for people of over 75 actually costs around £600M to the government. Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, media and sports, has made it clear that this may also become a thing of the past soon.

A petition, called “End the BBC Licence Fee“, hosted on 38 Degrees, as already signed by over 160,000 people. It calls for a debate on the future of the licence fee, with the hope the TV licence fee will be abolished in the near future. It can be signed here https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee

Even though the TV licence fee has been frozen until 31st March 2017, the BBC’s charter will be up for renewal in December 2016. The negotiations started just after the general election. It’s important to raise awareness on this and get the TV licence payers involved in the process, for the first time ever.

The BBC has been funded by the licence fee since 1923, but the current TV licence fee started in 1946. It’s classified as a tax since January 2006. It costs 40p a day (which is 40p too much if you object being associated with the BBC) or £145.50 a year. It goes without saying that this fee represents a much higher proportion of income for many households.


(1) Figures relate to defendants committed to prison for fine default arising from TV licence evasion, however, these defendants may also have been committed for non-payment of fines for other offences.  They exclude defendants who have served time for fine default arising from TV licence evasion whilst already in custody for other charges.

Sources:

Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, Prisoner Record Information System Management (PRISM)

Integrated Court Operations System (ICOS)

FOI 102/15 and FOI 094/15

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s