TV LICENCE EVASION – The Welsh File

PROSECUTIONS: BREAKDOWN

pie chart Wales

The number of households without a TV licence is rapidly increasing. At any given time, there are at least 5.6 million UK addresses (out of 31 million) without a TV licence.
The number of prosecutions in Wales is on the rise as demonstrated in the tables below. Results also show that women are also more susceptible to end up in court.

With television licence evasion offences committed in Gwent now being prosecuted in Cardiff (and therefore merged with South West results),  it’s perhaps not so surprising that nearly 75% of the people prosecuted in Wales live in South Wales or Gwent. However, this merging of courts means defendants have to travel greater distances in order to defend themselves. It would be fair to ask if this situation makes challenging TV Licensing’s accusations prohibitive.

Number of people proceeded against  in Wales, 2013
Police force area FEMALE MALE Not stated TOTAL
Dyfed-Powys 748 353 1,101
Gwent 1 1
North Wales 1,521 601 1 2,123
South Wales 5,420 2,073 12 7,505
 TOTAL 7,689 3,028 13 10,730
Number of people proceeded against in Wales, 2014 
Police force area FEMALE MALE Not stated TOTAL
Dyfed-Powys 728 392 3 1,123
North Wales 1,506 588 4 2,098
South Wales 6,587 2,701 27 9,315
 TOTAL 8,821 3,681 34 12,536

But the most shocking news is when you put those Welsh prosecutions into perspective with the rest of the UK: there are more prosecutions and convictions per capita in Wales than in any other country.

TV Licence Prosecutions Per Capita, 2014
Countries Scotland Northern Ireland England Wales
Prosecutions 13,518 * 4,905 173,044 12,536
Population (in million) 5.295 1.811 53.01 3.065
Per 1,000 people 2.6 2.7 3.3 4.1

 

TV Licence Convictions Per Capita, 2014
Countries Scotland Northern Ireland England Wales
Conviction 13,514* 3,619 151,503 11,348
Population (in million) 5.295 1.811 53.01 3.065
Per 1,000 people 2.5 1.9 2.8 3.7

*includes non-court disposal (fiscal fines)

Personally, I 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.

CONVICTION AND FAILURE RATE

There were a staggering 1,188 people wrongly prosecuted of committing a TV licence offence last year in Wales. This means nearly 1 in 10 cases were either dropped or withdrawn by the BBC, or people were found not guilty.

Defendants proceeded against at magistrates courts and found guilty at all courts of installing or using a television receiver without the appropriate licence, Wales, 2014
Police force area Proceeded against Found Guilty Unsuccessful
Dyfed-Powys 1,123 1,002 121
North Wales 2,098 1,891 207
South Wales 9,315 8,455 860
 TOTAL 12,536 11,348 1,188

These numbers of ‘unsuccessful’ prosecutions lends weight to the view that cases are initiated on a speculative basis where the BBC hopes that people will plead guilty or won’t contest the prosecution. This surely is a scandalous abuse of the courts’ 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.

WELSH YOUTH

Of the 12,536 prosecuted in Wales in 2014, 274 were aged 20 or under (32 in Dyfed-Powys, 44 in North Wales and 198 in South Wales). Of those 274 people, 38 were found not guilty, meaning that the failure rate is 13.8 %, which is significantly higher than that of the rest of the Welsh population.

I personally firmly believe that the underaged should never be required to pay for a TV licence. I also think students, regardless of their age, should be exempt as well.

WELSH WOMEN

With 8,821 women prosecuted last year (of which 802 were found not guilty), it means 70% of the people prosecuted in Wales for TV licence offences are female. This 30%-70% male/female ratio is, however, pretty much constant across the whole of the UK and is at odds with statistics for other small crimes (men tend to be more criminalized than women, by a long way).

The BBC assures us that women are not deliberately targeted. They describe their protocol as follows: a TV Licence officer who finds a house without a valid TV licence will take a statement from any responsible person living at that address, regardless of whether they own the TV, watch it or are in charge of paying the household bills. Therefore, the logical explanation for the gender disparity is quite simple. Statistically, women are more likely to be at home during day time, taking care of children for example, when TV licence officers are likely to visit. Women might also be more trusting and willing to open the door in the first place, and willing to correct their situation when prompted. The BBC claims that where a householder agrees to purchase a licence, it is likely that no further enforcement action will be taken. Unfortunately, there a strong evidence pointing to the contrary.

A case in point: Sarah, from Wrexham, held a TV Licence for approximately 12 years without any problems. In February 2015, however, a TV licensing officer informed the university student and mother of one that her licence had expired on the 23rd of January and asked her if she could reinstate it. She agreed to pay £24.25 to cover the months of January and February and resumed normal monthly payments thereafter. After what felt like a pleasant chat at the time (she even made a cup of tea for the officer), she was handed a record of interview. In March, she was horrified to receive a court summons, ordering her to attend court in May, even though she was no longer in arrears and her licence was renewed. TV Licensing refused to assess the problem, in spite of several phone calls. The matter was eventually dropped, and Sarah received a letter of apology, only when her local newspaper, the Leader, contacted them on her behalf.

CRIMINAL CONSEQUENCES

  1. FINE

Fines are based on the criminal’s income. In the case of TV licence evasion, it should represent between 25% and 125% of the evader’s weekly income, depending on the duration of the offence and other factors. For example, if a guilty plea is made, a reduction will apply, reflecting the stage at which it is made.

Reduction when a Guilty Plea is made
Guilty plea 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

The maximum fine is £1,000 but the average fine in England and Wales is £170. However, court records show that less than 35% of TV licence fines are actually recovered.

  1. CRIMINAL RECORD

Because watching TV without a TV licence is, in the eye of the law, a crime (unlike other utility bills), TV licence evaders will get a criminal record. It will not show up on basic criminal record checks, however.

  1. PUBLIC SHAMING

And because criminal matters are public, some local newspapers have decided to entertain their readers with what amounts to Public Shaming: a disclosure of the full name and address of the offenders, along with the amount of the fine awarded.

  1. COSTS, SURCHARGE AND CRIMINAL CHARGES

Finally, 3 charges will be added on top of the fine: court costs (between £60 and £120), a Victim surcharge (£20 to £60 which will fund victim services if recovered) and a new Criminal Courts charge. This third charge applies since April 2015. It starts at £150 but can escalate to £520 if a not-guilty plea is entered and the defendant is subsequently convicted. Keeping in mind that the original crime was to not purchase a £145.50 licence, this new charge is plainly disproportionate.  Also, considering that the Ministry of Justice has calculated the average cost of hearing TV licence fee evasion cases at approximately £28 per case, charging a minimum of £150 is also offensive.

  1. IMPRISONMENT

TV licence evasion is not punishable by a period of imprisonment per se. It’s only when convicted evaders refuse to pay the fine they were ordered to pay, or are incapable of paying it, that a period of imprisonment may be imposed as a “last resort”. This, however, is an all-round lose/lose situation: the BBC gains nothing in the way of monies and it costs the tax payer an average of £95 per day to keep one person behind bars. (This estimate is based on a disclosure from the Ministry of Justice that it costs £34,766 per annum to house a UK prisoner.)

The length of stay is decided by the amount owed.

Maximum periods of imprisonment in default of payment, England and Wales
Amount owed do not exceed £200 7 days
Amount exceeding £200 but not exceeding £500 14 days
Amount exceeding £500 but not exceeding £1,000 28 days

Considering that 39 people were given an average of 20 days for fine default in relation to TV licence offences in England and Wales in 2014, each stay is thought to have cost tax payers close to £2,000, bringing the combined total to an eye watering £74,000.

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

A petition, called “End the BBC Licence Fee“, hosted on 38 Degrees, has already been 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 and people are invited to write the reason why they’ve signed it. The TV licence fee has been frozen until 31st March 2017 and the BBC’s charter will be up for renewal in December 2016. The charter negotiations started just after the general election. It’s important to raise awareness of this and get the TV licence payers involved in the process, for the first time ever.  The petition will be handed over to Parliament after the summer recess, in October in all likeliness, and people will be invited to participate.

The BBC has been funded by the licence fee since 1923, but the current TV licence fee started in 1946. It’s been classified as a tax since January 2006. It costs 40p a day (which is 40p too much if you object to 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.  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 has 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 of whether a TV is owned or not, is fairer. They base this “fact” on a wild extrapolation from a microscopic sample of people over an insignificant length of time. Indeed, since 2011, the BBC has been claiming that 96% of the population use 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.

Sources

These findings are backed by the following Freedom of Information requests:

FOI 98525, FOI 97719, FOI 97268 and FOI 98986 Ministry of Justice for England and Wales

FOI 094/15 and FOI 102/15 Court and Tribunals Service, Northern Ireland

FOI-15-00823 and FOI-15-01131 Justice Analytical Service for Scotland

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