PLANS for a review of the penalties for failure to pay the TV licence have passed a key hurdle in the House of Commons, paving the way for possible decriminalisation.
An amendment proposing the review won unanimous cross-party support in the Commons committee scrutinising the Government’s Deregulation Bill, and is now almost certain to become law when the legislation completes its passage through Parliament.
The new proposals would require Culture Secretary Maria Miller to carry out a review of the sanctions for licence fee dodging, looking at the option of switching to a civil penalty system of fines, within three months of the Bill being passed.
With the review required to report within a year, it is not likely to produce its recommendations to Parliament and the BBC Trust until after the next election.
Significant cross-party backbench support for a call from Tory MP Andrew Bridgen to remove the threat of criminal sanction prompted the Government to propose the review, which Labour also backs.
The BBC has signalled a willingness to discuss changes as part of negotiations over the renewal of its charter, due in 2017.
Cases of people accused of evading the £145.50 fee accounted for more than one in 10 criminal prosecutions last year.
Those found guilty can be fined up to £1,000, with jail if they “wilfully” refuse to pay the fine.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “There is a difference between won’t pay and can’t pay.
“The increasing pressure on people’s finances means more and more are struggling to make ends meet.
“A jail sentence for being unable to pay is out of kilter with how other debts are handled.”