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Lawyer debunks whether you can really go to prison for not paying your TV Licence

Joe Harker

Published 
| Last updated 

If you live in the UK and own a TV then you've probably got a TV licence and you've almost certainly seen those adverts where they tell you they'll hunt you down if you're not paying.

Brits don't half love a grumble about the cost of the licence fee, but by and large most will pay it and get a damn good deal for what they spend.

For the cost of slightly more than Netflix you get access to the plethora of excellent television we make over here and your money goes towards funding a public broadcaster with a wide range of local and national programming.

Of course, that's not everyone's cup of tea and some people even make it a point of pride not to pay the fee, but there are many more who watch and don't pay in the hopes that the TV licence police don't rock up at their house.

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While the scary adverts make it sound like you'll be in all sorts of trouble for not paying your fee, legal expert Nasir Hafezi has explained exactly what could happen to you for not paying and whether you could really end up in prison.

Legal expert Nasir Hafezi explained how not paying your licence fee could lead to prison, but probably wouldn't. Credit: Community Legal Education
Legal expert Nasir Hafezi explained how not paying your licence fee could lead to prison, but probably wouldn't. Credit: Community Legal Education

Hafezi explained that not paying your licence fee and watching anything live on any channel or streaming service was an offence.

He explained that you can get prosecuted for watching TV without a licence, so you could end up in court and potentially be fined as much as £1,000 for your transgression.

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However, going to court and getting fined isn't cold, hard jail time and Hafezi laid out that while you could technically go to prison for not paying your fee it would be very unlikely.

To land yourself behind bars you'd need to have a 'refusal to pay the fine' and land yourself in a situation where 'all other enforcement methods have been tried'.

"In short, while you cannot go to prison for simply not paying your TV licence fee, you can go to prison if you deliberately refuse to pay the court fine," the lawyer summed up.

Digging into the figures behind the licence fee, Hafezi said that in 2017 there were 137,913 prosecutions over the TV licence and 72 percent of these were for women.

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"Come on guys, all I did was watch Homes Under the Hammer." Credit: Photo by Martin Pope/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
"Come on guys, all I did was watch Homes Under the Hammer." Credit: Photo by Martin Pope/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In that year, 30 percent of all women prosecuted were being done for not paying their TV licence, whereas only four percent of men getting in trouble in court were being nailed for non-payment.

Hafezi said this massive disparity was explained in part by women being more likely to be in when one of the TV licence people went to visit people's homes.

However, any of you wondering whether you're about to get locked up and have the key thrown away because you watched Loose Women without a licence should remember that.

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According to Full Fact, nobody in England and Wales was jailed for not paying their TV licence or dodging the resulting fine in 2020 or 2021, while in 2019 no more than two people were locked up.

Between 1995 and 2018, a total of 1,449 men and 754 women were jailed over the TV licence, so while women are far more likely to be prosecuted it looks like men are far less willing to relent and pay the fine.

Topics: UK News, TV and Film, Crime, BBC

Joe Harker
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