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

Written by Henrik Rothen

Aug.23 - 2023 9:04 AM CET

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

Trending Now

In the UK, owning a TV means you've likely got a TV licence, and you've probably seen the adverts warning about the consequences of not paying. While many Brits grumble about the cost, most pay it and enjoy the wide range of local and national programming it funds.

However, some people make it a point of pride not to pay the fee, while others watch and don't pay, hoping the TV licence police don't show up at their house. While the adverts make it sound like serious trouble awaits those who don't pay, legal expert Nasir Hafezi has explained what could really happen.

Hafezi explained that not paying your licence fee and watching anything live on any channel or streaming service is an offence. You can get prosecuted for watching TV without a licence, and you could end up in court and potentially be fined as much as £1,000.

However, going to court and getting fined isn't the same as going to jail. 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 find 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, Hafezi said that in 2017 there were 137,913 prosecutions over the TV licence, and 72 percent of these were for women. 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 explained this massive disparity in part by women being more likely to be home when the TV licence people went to visit.

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.

The article concludes by highlighting that the risk of imprisonment for not paying the TV licence fee is minimal, and the legal process is more complex than the scary adverts suggest. The statistics also reveal a gender disparity in prosecutions, adding another layer to the discussion around TV licensing in the UK.