£100k to recover TV licence fines worth £16k

The following findings are backed by Freedom of Information requests


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”. That one degree of separation is a bit meaningless tough because if you oppose to the TV licence, you will oppose paying the fine too.


Considering that 38 people were given an average of 25 days for fine default in relation to TV licence offences in England and Wales in 2015, each stay is likely to have cost tax payers close to £2,275. If we add the 57 prison stints in Northern Ireland, it means over £100k was wasted in the process of recovering fines worth around £16k. And that’s on top of all the other expenses. Collection fees alone are over £100M. Jailing people for TV licence fines is literally throwing good money after bad.


Year Number of defendants committed to prison

for TV licence fine default

England and Wales Northern Ireland Scotland Total
2012 51 228 0 279
2013 32 18 0 50
2014 39 1 0 40
2015 38 57* 0 95

* One person in N. Ireland had two separate periods of custody for non-payment of TV licence.

  • There is a sharp increase of people jailed for TV licence fine default since 2013 (nearly twice as many)
  • Northern Ireland has taken a backward step by restoring a policy of custodial sentence for TV licence fine default (a Judicial Review led to a temporary suspension of fine defaulters being sent to prison)

The length of stay is decided by the amount owed. 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 £91 per day to keep one person behind bars. This estimate is based on a disclosure from the Ministry of Justice that it costs £33,291 per annum to house a UK prisoner. MoJ Costs per place and costs per prisoner 2014-2015




Length of sentence
England & Wales Northern Ireland
2012 22 days* 3 to 28 days
2013 24 days* 7 to 14 days
2014 20 days* 7 days
2015 25 days* 8.5 days* awarded but 3.1 days* spent

* average

  • sentences in England and Wales are at least 3 times longer than in Northern Ireland.
Year Gender distribution in England and Wales
women men
2014 11 28
2015 20 18
  • The number of women committed to prison in England and Wales has nearly doubled last year.
  • Women account for 52.6% of people jailed for TV licence fine default in England and Wales
Year Gender distribution in Northern Ireland
women men
2015 26 31


  • Women account for 45.6% of people jailed for TV licence fine default in Northern Ireland.


  Age distribution in England and Wales
Age brackets Male Female
   21 – 24 ≤2 ≤2
   25 – 29 3 ≤2
   30 – 39 3 7
   40 – 49 9 7
   50 – 59 ≤2 5
total 18 20

These data were collected by anti-TV licence campaigner Caroline Levesque-Bartlett.

Her petition End the BBC Licence Fee has been signed by over 210,000 people.


2015 at a glance

 200,117 people charged for TV licence offences in 2015

TV Licence Prosecutions & out of court disposal, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 173,966 4,863 15,383 5,905 200,117



TV Licence convictions Per Gender, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Women 107,835 3,335* 9,807 2,963 120,605
Men 44,269 1,525* 4,007 1,209 49,485
Percentage of women 70.8% 68.6% 70.9% 71% 70.5%

*including out of court disposals

TV Licence unnecessary prosecutions, 2015
Countries England  Scotland Wales Northern Ireland TOTAL
Prosecutions 173,966 15* 15,383 5,905 195,269*
unsuccessful 21,862 3* 1,569 1,728 25,162*
Percentage 12.5% 20%* 10.1% 29.2% 12.8%*

*excluding out of court disposal

  • There has been a slight increase in the overall number of unsuccessful cases brought to court (from 12.6% to 12.8%). 2014 boasted 24,025 unsuccessful cases and a total of 190,532 prosecutions.
  • It is a burden on the State to bring 1 in 8 to court unnecessarily in England.
  • Northern Ireland’s rate is simply unacceptable (1 in 3)

4 thoughts on “£100k to recover TV licence fines worth £16k

  1. What a brilliant, well-researched site you’ve created here. I’ve signed the petition as its something I’ve felt very strongly about for a long time. My late mother was a magistrate and I was horrified that she had the power to imprison people, obviously those with very little already, for not paying the TV licence fines. The consequences, for single parents especially, cost far more than the initial fee in terms of social exclusion and greater debt and misery. I am now dependent on meagre disability benefits due to chronic illness. I use the internet a lot but rarely watch TV and have no idea how I will afford to renew my licence. Its yet another stress that has a negative impact on my health as I’m worried about going to court if I can’t find the money. It makes me so happy, and renews my faith in humanity, to know people like you are determined to keep pressing on with this. You have my full support, for what its worth.


  2. Petitions do work! As I’m sure you’ve heard, Parliament is to debate the licence fee in May. (I’m not on twitter so I’m always a step behind) I hope it gets sufficient coverage in the media, sadly I don’t think this administration will be minded to do anything radical, unless the BBC’s political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg annoys Theresa May again.
    I’ve had to bite the bullet and pay the licence as visitors do occasionally watch TV and there was no way around that. Fingers crossed some good comes of the debate in May.

    Liked by 1 person

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