Labour MPs have said plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee should be dropped, amid reports the government is planning to delay the move until 2022 at the earliest.
Kevin Brennan, a Labour member of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said he was in favour of keeping the licence fee unchanged, and he felt that after recent committee meetings the government had come round to that view.
Brennan also cited the departure of Dominic Cummings as a potential reason for the government to climb down, saying it had changed the “mood music” in No 10.
Non-payment of the licence fee is a criminal offence for which more than 100,000 people are prosecuted annually. Downgrading it to a civil matter could lead to a rise in non-payment, denting funding for the BBC.
According to the Daily Telegraph, which first reported that the proposals had been delayed, the government is now planning to wait until 2022 when the licence fee is due for review.
The delay is partly down to a fear that the replacement system for dealing with non-payment could prove less popular than criminal enforcement, if there are repossession orders rather than fines.
Plans to make non-payment of the licence fee a civil offence were mooted in 2019 at a low point in relations between Boris Johnson’s government and the BBC. Along with a boycott of Radio 4’s Today programme, the plans were seen as emblematic of Cummings’ war on the media.
Reports that the plans had been shelved were criticised by a variety of figures on the right, from the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Ukip to the former actor and media personality Laurence Fox.