AN MP has called for a change in the law to no longer make non-payment of TV licences a criminal offence.
Andrew Bridgen leapt to the defence of thousands of people he said had been prosecuted for ‘merely being poor’.
Those who fail to pay licence fees are brought before magistrates’ courts and face fines of up to £1,000.
The North West Leicestershire MP called for and end to the ‘ludicrous situation’ where people were given a criminal record and believes it should be treated in the same manner as non-payment of utility bills which only civil action can be brought.
The Tory also questioned how much it was costing to bring tens of thousands of cases to court every year and said he ‘did not see why the BBC should be treated as a special case’.
Non-payment of TV licences made up for around one in 10 of all UK court cases in 2012.
The BBC argued an ‘effective deterrent’’ was necessary to keep licence evasion levels as low as possible.
Speaking during a debate in Parliament, Mr Bridgen said: “Non-payment of television licence fees represent an estimated 12 per cent of all magistrates’ cases, with more than 190,000 cases in 2012 alone.
“May we have a debate on the burden on the state of prosecuting those cases? We should end the ludicrous situation whereby those who genuinely cannot pay are criminalised merely for being poor.
“I see no reason why the BBC should be treated as a special case when it comes to non-payment when councils, utility companies and other pay TV companies are only able to take civil action in cases of non-payment.
“The law is threatening those struggling to pay with a criminal prosecution and a criminal record.”
Young people were warned recently about the need for a TV licence after it was revealed more than 250 people under the age of 25 in Burton and South Derbyshire were caught out during 2013, while pubs have also been told they will be kept under close scrutiny ahead of this summer’s World Cup.