TV licence fee evasion accounts for almost a third of female convictions in the UK, according to data released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on Thursday. The news has led to accusations the BBC is responsible for “indirect gender discrimination” and campaigners have urged the corporation to decriminalise non-payment of the £157.50 fee.
Women accounted for almost three quarters (74 percent) of the 114,000 convictions for TV licence fee evasion in 2019, up three percent since 2015.
The 84,000 offences represented 30 percent of all convictions for women in that year, compared with just four percent of men’s convictions, the MoJ found.
The findings prompted Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner to call for the decriminalisation of the licence fee.
She said the statistics were of “serious concern” and suggested the BBC is guilty of indirect gender discrimination.
Dame Vera told The Telegraph: “It is of serious concern that so many women are prosecuted for TV licence evasion.
“This report points to women who happen to be the person answering the door becoming the defendant.
“It would be surprising if that were not indirect gender discrimination since women are far likelier, overall, than men to be at home during the day, caring for children.
“Whichever family member is prosecuted, it is an unnecessary conviction serving only to criminalise poverty and disproportionately punish poorer families, with all the problems of a criminal record impeding the ability to work.”
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The BBC said it was wrong to suggest licence fee avoidance brought with it a criminal record.
A spokeswoman said: “Details of the offence are not held on the Police National Computer – so while there is a criminal conviction there is no criminal record.
“Furthermore, 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.”
Currently, using a TV without a valid licence can lead to prosecution, a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000.
If a person refuses to pay the fine and where all other enforcement methods have been tried, a person can be sent to jail.
The Government is currently reviewing whether to decriminalise non payment of the TV licence and replace it with action by civil courts and bailiffs.
Such a move would need to be passed as a bill in Parliament before it is enshrined in law.