Almost 1,000 people a week are being prosecuted for not paying their TV licence, with 70 percent of those fined being women, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice.
Campaigners are calling for reform of the controversial Single Justice Procedure (SJP), under which the vast majority of cases are heard behind closed doors without the accused needing to enter a plea.
If individuals fail to respond to the letter informing them of the charges, a guilty verdict can be issued, with a fine of up to £1,000. Those failing to pay may be sent to prison.
Rebecca Ryan, Campaign Director at Defund the BBC, has accused the broadcaster of failing to adhere to its impartiality obligations, and of “bullying and coercing” the public to fund politically divisive presenters such as Gary Lineker. Ryan called for the BBC to enforce impartiality, or for the licence fee to be abolished.
Tara Casey, women’s justice caseworker at Appeal, has called for the decriminalisation of the offence, citing concerns over gender disparity in prosecutions and the lack of attention given to vulnerable individuals.
She has also criticised the BBC’s prosecution policies and called on the organisation to suspend prosecutions of those in genuine hardship.
In response, a TV Licensing spokesperson emphasised that prosecution is “only ever a last resort”, and that the organisation is working to support people experiencing financial difficulties.
Licence fee evasion now makes up around a fifth of all criminal prosecutions against women. A TV licence costs £159 per year, with free licences available for those over 74 who receive pension credit, and for those living with them. Those who only watch black and white TV pay £53.50.