People struggling to pay for their TV Licence are set to be given more support by the BBC in a major shake-up. Everyone who watches live TV in the UK must pay a £159 TV Licence fee - you are breaking the law and could be prosecuted without one.
But under new plans published this week, people will be offered a two-month grace period if they are facing enforcement action. Those without a TV Licence will also be offered payment plans in order to spread out costs.
The support plan comes in response to a Gender Disparity Review by the BBC which looked at why 75 per cent of those prosecuted for not paying for their TV Licence were women. The research revealed that this figure accounted for 18 per cent of all prosecutions made against women in England and Wales.
“Societal factors” were largely responsible for the gender disparity in TV Licence prosecutions, the BBC report found. It showed that 60 per cent of single adult households were headed by women, and only 40 per cent by men - and that women were more likely to be at home than men and more likely to be the point of contact for bills.
More women experienced financial hardship than men, according to the report, which could in turn impact their ability to pay for a TV Licence. Under the new scheme, those struggling will also be offered free support and advice from the debt charity StepChange.
Clare Sumner, director of policy at the BBC, said: “While we know societal factors drive the gender disparity, we’re committed to making improvements to our own processes wherever possible. Our action plan will improve support for people in real financial difficulty to help them stay licensed and reduce risk of prosecution.
“We look forward to the new partnership with StepChange and we will closely monitor its impact.” Additonal proposals put forward in the BBC’s action plan include better training for TV Licence visiting officers to help them have a “deeper understanding” of financial hardship and debt.
Customers will be given more opportunities to buy a licence before prosecution and the broadcaster said it would try to withdraw prosections against those in the process of making payments towards a licence. The BBC will also work to improve its communications with customers to “ensure greater clarity”.
But Emma Torr, legal director at the law charity APPEAL, said the “action plan” did not go far enough as it focuses on “getting more people to pay their licence fee rather than on ensuring that those in genuine hardship”.
“This review came about because women, and those in genuine financial difficulty, have been disproportionately bearing the burden of the BBC’s enforcement scheme for years,” she added. “A situation that’s particularly abhorrent during the cost-of-living crisis.
“Previous efforts by the BBC to address the disparity have failed so it’s clear that tinkering around the edges does not work - there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that they enforce license fee payment.”