The revelation comes after a national leafleting campaign has been launched to encourage people to cancel their licence fee. Anger has grown over the Corporation’s decision to extend the licence payment to many over-75s despite promising to continue with the free licence fee for the elderly as part of a deal with the Government. There has also been criticism of the BBC’s coverage with critics claiming that it was biassed towards Remain in the post-referendum Brexit news content and claims that it has pushed a woke agenda.
Further criticism has been levelled at the BBC for the huge salaries for some of its stars including Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and DJ Zoe Ball who both receive more than £1.3 million each.
Currently it is a criminal offence to own a television and watch live programs on any channel if you do not have a licence fee.
The maximum fine is £1,000 but between 2015 and 2018 91 people, disproportionately women from low income families, were jailed for non-payment.
But despite signals that the government wants to decriminalise payment opening the door for thousands to cancel their licence, a cabinet minister has told the Sunday Express that there could be second thoughts.
The minister said: “It’s unlikely to happen now because the BBC has let it be known it will employ debt collectors to ensure they get their payment.
“We can’t have people having their valuables being confiscated to pay the fee.”
The minister added: “In a way it does not matter because soon the licence fee will be so outdated that it cannot possibly be renewed and the BBC will have to find an alternative means of making money.”
However, pressure is mounting to decriminalise it sooner.
This week the Defund the BBC movement will intensify its attacks on the broadcaster with a leaflet campaign encouraging people to cancel their television licences.
Volunteers will deliver tens of thousands of leaflets that claim the “BBC is broken” and people should be able to watch live television without a licence
The leaflet states: “Over recent years the BBC has cared less and less about its duty to provide impartial content that unifies and reflects the British people outside the M25. And as technology and consumers have moved on, rather than moving with the times, the BBC has gripped tighter and tighter to the licence fee.”
Campaigners want non-payment of the licence fee decriminalised and the broadcaster “stripped of its right to tax for watching any live TV”.
Campaign director Rebecca Ryan said: “Defund the BBC are working to inform the British public on how they can cancel their TV licence without fear of prosecution. The BBC’s system for catching and prosecuting non-licence fee payment disproportionately affects women and the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
“This must stop. Decriminalising non-payment of the Licence fee is only the first step.
“It is totally unreasonable to force people, by fear of imprisonment, to pay the BBC in order to watch non-BBC live TV.”
However, a BBC spokesman said: “The licence fee continues to ensure the BBC is an independent, universal broadcaster, committed to serving everyone and to investing in British creativity. It is the agreed method of funding the BBC until at least 2027.
“There’s always debate about the funding model and we’re happy to do that – but the right time to do that is as part of the next Charter discussions.”
The BBC claims decriminalising the licence fee could cost up to £1billion over five years and “have a big impact on the programmes and services that the public loves and expects from the BBC”.
It stresses that under the current system enforcing court fines is a matter for the courts, not the broadcaster, and that TV Licensing does not hire bailiffs.
Tory MP Andrew Lewer has argued that decriminalisation should only be the beginning.
Writing for the Express, he said: “Decriminalisation is just the first step and must be followed up by moves to make the licence cover BBC output only, so that the discriminatory prosecution doesn’t just move to bailiffs and county court judgements for the most vulnerable.”