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BBC publishes report into why 75 per cent of prosecutions for non-payment of TV licence fee are against women

The BBC today published the findings of its review which was designed to understand why there is a significant gender disparity in the way that it prosecutes people who default on their TV licence fee payment, and find ways to mitigate the disparity.

Posted on 11 May 2023

The findings are that societal factors are largely responsible for the disparity. It proposes an Action Plan which, Baroness Young of Hornsey OBE, Independent Advisor to the review, says “has the potential to mitigate gender disparity significantly in terms of prosecutions, and to lead to fewer people overall being prosecuted”.

The corporation agreed to carry out and publish a follow-up to its 2017 gender disparity review after our client Josiane threatened a judicial review of the system on the basis of sex discrimination. Josiane was a lone parent from Essex who was in financial difficulty during the pandemic but was nevertheless prosecuted for failing to pay her TV licence.

Josiane has been supported in legal claims against the BBC by the law charities APPEAL and the Public Law Project, and represented by the law firm Leigh Day. Her lawyers are not convinced that today’s proposals will go far enough to address her concerns around gender discrimination.

Seventy-five per cent of all TV licensing prosecutions in 2021 were against women, accounting for 18 per cent of all prosecutions made against women in England and Wales. Non-payment of the fine can result in imprisonment.

Emma Torr, Legal Director at APPEAL said:

“This review came about because women, and those in genuine financial difficulty, have been disproportionately bearing the burden of the BBC's enforcement scheme for years. A situation that’s particularly abhorrent during the cost-of-living crisis.

"Previous efforts by the BBC to address the disparity have failed so it’s clear that tinkering around the edges does not work - there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that they enforce license fee payment. We had hoped that this review would kick start that sea change. Sadly, today’s report does not convince me. The focus of the Action Plan is on getting more people to pay their licence fee rather than on ensuring that those in genuine hardship are not prosecuted at all.

"The devil is in the detail however, and APPEAL has a number of practical suggestions on how they could be implemented to maximise their chance of success.

"As millions across the UK struggle to pay their bills, this is an urgent problem. We call on the BBC to act swiftly in implementing the changes, publishing quarterly statistics to measure their success and reforming their approach if we do not see a dramatic fall in the prosecution of women and those in hardship.”

Leigh Day solicitor Kate Egerton said:

“The BBC once again heavily rely on ‘societal’ factors, which they say are out of their control, to account for the 75% gender disparity. However, its proposals to mitigate the discriminatory impact of its polices for investigating and prosecuting TV licence evasion are lacking in detail and do not go far enough.

"We suggested a number of practical steps that the BBC could take to reduce the disproportionate impact on women as part of Josiane’s case but these have not been taken forward. We are concerned that the review’s recommendations will only scratch the surface of the problem and that women will continue to be the subject of indirect sex discrimination. The BBC should be bolder if it is serious about tackling the gender disparity and we will be looking at this plan closely to consider its implications.”

Josiane said:

“Being prosecuted for not being able to meet the payments of my TV Licence was a deeply stressful experience for me. I can’t help but think of all the people – mainly women – who are in that position now, especially during the cost-of-living crisis. That is why I have been trying to get the BBC to tackle this problem. I do not yet see how today’s proposals from the BBC will do that and sincerely hope they will work closely with my team at APPEAL when it comes to fleshing out the details.”


Kate Egerton
Discrimination Human rights

Kate Egerton

Kate Egerton is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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