The government is facing fresh pressure to U-turn on its decision not to decriminalise non-payment of the television licence fee.
After hinting that decriminalisation was on the agenda for months, ministers announced last week that they were not going ahead – while saying they will keep the issue under “active consideration”.
However, peers in the House of Lords have argued the government should think again, saying the licence fee belongs to a “bygone age” and should be abolished.
Lady Hoey, a non-affiliated peer, said ministers had recognised that criminal sanctions for licence fee evasion were disproportionate and unfair.
She asked how the government could justify the “continued harassment, intimidation and bullying by capita to the many elderly vulnerable households just trying to survive in the midst of a pandemic”.
Digital, culture, media and sport minister Baroness Barran said decriminalisation would remain under “active consideration” while more work was undertaken on the impact of alternative enforcement schemes, including a civil penalty system.
However, Tory Lord Flight said decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee would “in practice render paying for a licence optional” and constitute a “halfway house towards getting rid of the licence”.
Lady Barran added: “It does risk sending the wrong signal to the very small minority who seek to evade payment, and we feel a more constructive way is looking at ways the BBC can support those on low incomes to pay the licence fee.”
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