‘I’m very concerned about how many women have been locked up’: Liz Truss is ready to scrap the threat of jail over failure to pay £159 licence fee
- Liz Truss will order review into whether not paying TV licence should be offence
- Ministers argue prosecutions take time and penalties are disproportionate
- 74% of 114,000 people convicted for licence fee dodging in 2019 were female
- BBC has seen viewers being tempted away by the likes of Netflix and Disney+
Liz Truss said she will order a review into whether failing to pay for a TV licence should be a criminal offence.
Watching television or the BBC iPlayer without a £159-a-year licence can currently lead to a court appearance and a £1,000 fine – or even jail if the fine goes unpaid.
But ministers have argued that prosecutions take up too much court time and the penalties are disproportionate.
In an interview with The Mail+, the Tory leadership favourite raised concerns about the number of women being punished.
Around three-quarters (74 per cent) of the 114,000 people convicted for licence fee dodging in 2019 were female. The Foreign Secretary said she will ‘look at all the options’ to overhaul the licence fee system if she becomes prime minister, including decriminalisation.
Liz Truss (pictured) said she will order a review into whether failing to pay for a TV licence should be a criminal offence
She told The Mail+: ‘What I’m very concerned about on the TV licence fee is how many women have ended up in prison for non-payment, a disproportionate number.
‘I want to look at how we can make sure that we reform the TV licence fee, so we don’t end up with those punitive results. I’ll look at all the options… I do want to reform the way it works.’
Her leadership rival Rishi Sunak has suggested that he could look at abolishing the licence fee altogether. But supporters of Miss Truss have accused Mr Sunak of blocking such a move during his time as chancellor.
In an article for The Mail+ at the weekend, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said he had been a roadblock to reviewing the licence fee.
She wrote: ‘It was a policy enthusiastically supported by the Prime Minister and the vast majority of Conservative MPs.
‘However, Rishi and the Treasury refused to sign off the review and blocked it for many months. It meant we would be stuck with the ever-increasing and outdated BBC licence fee forever.
‘I appealed to Rishi but he refused to budge. I spoke to him again just after Cabinet on the morning of the day he launched his coup.
‘He flashed me that smile and said something which amounted to nothing.
‘I was obliged to write to the Prime Minister asking him to intervene – unaware there was no time left as Boris would be forced to step down.
‘Imagine my utter amazement when one of Rishi’s first policy announcements as a leadership candidate was a review of the BBC licence fee!
Watching television or the BBC iPlayer without a £159-a-year licence can currently lead to a court appearance and a £1,000 fine – or even jail if the fine goes unpaid (file image)
‘A policy he had previously been unwilling to engage with,’ she wrote. The ten-year BBC Charter means that the licence fee cannot be scrapped before 2027 at the earliest.
Ministers launched a consultation on decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee in February 2020 over concerns that the ‘criminal sanction is unfair and disproportionate’, but they decided not to move forward with plans. In the broadcasting White Paper earlier this year, the Government raised concerns about the enforcement action being taken against vulnerable elderly people.
Ministers said that there was an ‘ongoing disparity’ in the proportion of sanctions against women.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘There is always a debate to be had about the best way to manage non-payment of the licence fee, but the independent Perry Review [of 2015] found the current system to be fair and proportionate, and according to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, nobody is in prison for not paying the licence fee.’
Last night a YouGov poll put the Conservatives just behind Labour, with the Tories on 34 per cent (+2) and Labour on 35 per cent (-4).
Meanwhile, hedge fund manager Andrew Law, who has given more than £3million to the Conservatives, has become the latest senior businessman to back Liz Truss. He dismissed criticism of her economic plans as ‘bonkers’.
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