Today, the BBC has unveiled its increased assistance for individuals facing challenges in paying their TV Licence fees.

The introduction of a new action plan aims to reduce the number of women enduring severe financial hardship who are prosecuted for non-payment.

This plan is a direct response to the Gender Disparity Review conducted by the BBC, which sought to investigate and comprehend why 75% of those prosecuted for licence fee evasion are women. The review determined that societal factors largely contribute to this disparity.

The comprehensive study incorporated input from various expert stakeholders, an analysis of TV Licensing data and procedures, as well as research on social inequality. Independent advisor Baroness Lola Young, an expert in gender, racial equality, and the justice system, oversaw the review.

Key findings from the report include:

No evidence suggests deliberate discrimination by TV Licensing against any specific group, and gender does not play a role in the collection and enforcement of the licence fee.

Societal factors beyond the BBC’s control remain the significant influencers behind the prosecution disparity, as previously identified in the 2017 BBC review. These factors include:

Household composition: Over 60% of single adult households consist of women, while men comprise less than 40%.

Behavioral differences: Women are more likely to be at home, answer the door, and handle bills and domestic administration.

Financial hardship: Women experience more severe financial difficulties than men, affecting their ability to maintain a licence and provide evidence that could prevent prosecution.

Over the past five years (2017-2022), TV Licensing prosecutions in England and Wales have reduced by 66%. Consequently, the overall number of women prosecuted has also decreased. Nonetheless, women still account for the majority of prosecutions. The BBC acknowledges the remaining disparity and is committed to further supporting those facing significant financial challenges.

Societal factors may also contribute to higher prosecution rates for women in other offenses, such as truancy and benefit fraud. Concerns regarding the collection of civil debt, such as Council Tax, have also been raised.

Baroness Young of Hornsey, the Independent Advisor for the Gender Disparity Review, comments, “The BBC’s Action Plan has the potential to result in fewer people, particularly those experiencing genuine financial difficulty, being prosecuted, and that is a positive outcome. This thorough review scrutinized a range of new evidence and concluded that there is no single cause for the disproportionality observed.”

She adds, “As highlighted in the report, women and men do not appear to be treated differently. Rather, societal factors often coexist with disparities in the criminal justice system, as well as in health and other services.”

Many measures within the action plan were developed based on suggestions provided by expert stakeholders during the review.

Key actions outlined in the plan include:

Expanding the availability of the simple payment plan, which allows the cost of a new licence to be spread over 12 months in smaller installments, to all unlicensed households.

Partnering with debt advice charity StepChange to pilot a program ensuring that individuals experiencing financial difficulties have access to free, independent support.

Implementing a two-month “breathing space” on enforcement action for those in financial distress who agree to a referral for free, independent debt advice from TV Licensing. This mirrors the wider “Breathing Space” legislation designed to aid individuals with debt and financial problems.

Enhancing the process for providing evidence under the public interest test, exploring new approaches for allocating and prioritizing visits, and expanding opportunities for second-time evasion offenders to pay for a licence during a visit.

Clare Sumner, BBC Director of Policy, emphasizes the commitment to making improvements within the BBC’s processes whenever possible. She states, “Our action plan will enhance support for people in real financial difficulty to help them stay licensed and reduce risk of prosecution. We look forward to the new partnership with StepChange and we will closely monitor its impact.

“I would like to thank all those who contributed to the review and Baroness Lola Young for her independent scrutiny and oversight.”

Vanessa Northam, Head of Charity Development at StepChange Debt Charity says: “Our partnership with the BBC will help TV Licensing customers in financial difficulty to access free, independent debt advice and reduce the intolerable burden that money worries bring”

She adds: “Demand for StepChange’s services is understandably high given the enormous cost pressures so many households are facing, with women making up 65% of new clients who contact us. We welcome TV Licensing’s move to provide additional support for their customers.”