December 10, 2019 / 7:32 AM / 2 months ago

UK could decriminalise non-payment of BBC licence fee - minister

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Justice Secretary Robert Buckland is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is looking at whether or not to decriminalise the penalty for non-payment of the 154.50-pound ($198) annual BBC “licence fee” tax on all television-watching households, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday questioned why the BBC should continue to be supported by the annual fee, one of the biggest hints to date that the funding of Britain’s main news provider could be upended.

“What we are talking about as a first step is the decriminalisation of failing to pay the TV licence,” Buckland told BBC radio.

He said people during election campaigning had said they worried about the cost of the licence fee.

“Is it right to criminalise and target a vulnerable section of society for what really is an issue of civil liability? We would consult on that to work out whether criminalisation is the right way to approach this issue,” he said.

It is a criminal offence to watch TV or use BBC iplayer in the United Kingdom without a valid TV licence.

“The government’s own independent review found the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained,” a BBC spokesman said in a statement.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden

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