TV Licence Dodgers May Not Face Jail Threat
Proposals allowing ministers to lift the threat of jail and a criminal record for TV licence dodgers have taken a step forward.
MPs on a Commons committee gave the go-ahead for a review of TV licence sanctions, including allowing the Government to make non-payment a civil offence.
The move is almost certain to become law, with cross-party backing for decriminalisation.
The BBC had warned an immediate change would hit funding for its services by leading to increased evasion.
Cases of people accused of not paying the £145.50 fee accounted for more than one in 10 criminal prosecutions last year, with 155,000 people convicted and fined.
It led to more than 150 MPs to back a decriminalisation campaign led by Tory MP Andrew Bridgen.
In response, proposals were put forward requiring Culture Secretary Maria Miller to carry out a year-long review of the sanctions.
It means the review is unlikely to report until after next year's general election.
The BBC has indicated it is willing to discuss changes as part of discussions over the renewal of its charter, due in 2017.
Its director of strategy and digital, James Purnell, said the present system "works pretty well" and challenged some of the evidence put forward by supporters of decriminalisation.
But he added: "We want to look at the facts and work with Mr Bridgen and other people in Parliament who have expressed a concern and with the Government to come up with the best possible system.
"That is what this set of amendments allows us to do. It avoids the risk of doing it in a rush, it allows it to be looked at in the round and that is something we welcome."
Chancellor George Osborne said the Government was "looking very closely" at decriminalisation.
"It is getting more and more support across the political parties and you can see it is all heading in a particular direction," he said.