BBC accused of ‘disproportionately’ targeting ‘women and vulnerable’ amid licence fee row

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Fines for failing to pay the TV licence currently go up to £1,000, as well as court costs. A total of 129,446 people were prosecuted for not paying their licence fee in 2018 and most were found guilty through fast-track prosecutions.

And five people in England and Wales were ultimately sent to prison for failing to pay a fine issued by the court that same year.

Rebecca Ryan, campaign director at Defund the BBC, claimed 70 percent of those prosecuted were women.

She argued, “women and the vulnerable” were more likely to be prosecuted and claimed this was because they were “more likely to be at home” when inspectors called.

Ms Ryan told Express.co.uk: “The BBC disproportionately prosecutes women and the vulnerable as they are more likely to be at home and more easily intimidated by ‘inspectors’ when they call.

“For example, 70 percent of those prosecuted are women, whereas on average they only carry out 20 percent of all crimes.

“The BBC’s method of prosecution is clearly discriminatory and the government must tackle this urgently.”

The TV licence fee is guaranteed by the BBC’s royal charter until 2027.

There have been suggestions the Government could be planning legislation to bring TV licence non-payments under the scope of “civil debt”, similar to the way non-payment of utility bills are treated.

But, last week the Culture Secretary cast doubts on any plans to decriminalise licence-fee evasion.

Oliver Dowden admitted there were “major challenges” in ending the prosecution of people who refused to buy a TV licence.

He told a select committee: “I am concerned that were we to choose to [decriminalise], we do not send a signal that it is acceptable not to pay your TV licence.”

A BBC spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “The Government’s own independent review of TV licence fee enforcement found ‘no evidence to suggest that activity is unfairly and intentionally targeted at women’.

“When TV Licensing visits an unlicensed property, a statement is taken from any responsible adult present.

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“TV Licensing’s role is to collect the licence fee and inform people about the need to buy a TV Licence.

“Our database of more than 30 million UK addresses is the primary tool for checking which households have not paid for their TV Licence.”

According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, 93,319 of 129,446 prosecutions in 2018 for TV licence evasion prosecutions were brought against women (72 percent), up from 71 percent in 2017 and 67 percent in 2012.

It comes after the BBC admitted to Express.co.uk that its phone lines were struggling to deal with the volume of people cancelling their fees.

Ms Ryan said: “This is deeply worrying. People should not be trapped into paying a licence for a service they do not use, particularly when it is under the guise of a public service and categorised as a tax.

“Imagine if this happened with vehicle tax? There would rightly be uproar.”

Ms Ryan also offered advice for people struggling to cancel their licence fee.

She said: “Those wanting to cancel their licence but finding themselves blocked in this way should simply cancel their direct debit and write TV licensing an email confirming that they no longer need a licence.”

A BBC spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “We have more calls than usual at the moment and they are taking longer to answer as we operate in accordance with Covid-19 government guidelines.

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

“Customers are able to cancel their licence over the phone.”

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