Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: Worst towns for TV licence dodgers in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

More than 5,000 people were prosecuted in Northern Ireland last year for not paying a TV licence.

On average 19 evaders are taken to court here every working day, new figures show.

Dodging the £145.50 TV licence fee is a criminal offence and can mean a fine of up to £1,000.

The BBC, which uses licence fee revenue to pay for its radio, television and internet services, contracts a body called TV Licensing to administer the system and bring prosecutions.

Court statistics show 5,017 people were prosecuted here in 2016 - but 1,373 (27%) of these were thrown out.

Women are far more likely to end up in court than men, analysis of the figures shows.

Anti-TV licence campaigner Caroline Levesque-Bartlett accused the BBC of extortion in its pursuit of licence fee dodgers.

"The way TV Licensing has been allowed, unchallenged for the last 71 years, to ask every household who watches live TV to pay for a TV licence, which only funds the BBC, is nothing short of daylight robbery," she said.

"The BBC wants all the privileges of the private company with the benefits of State funding.

"Taking money with the threat of criminal punishment for something you don't want is extortion."

Across the UK some 184,595 people were charged with TV licensing offences in 2016.

In Northern Ireland the number totalled 5,017 - 19 a day based on the five-day working week.

Women accounted for almost three-quarters (72.9%) of the total here.

Some 1,373 prosecutions taken here - more than a quarter - were unsuccessful.

A breakdown of the figures by court division shows Belfast top with 1,512 prosecutions, followed by Londonderry (557).

Next comes Newtownards (395), followed by Lisburn (308) and Newry (273).

Ms Levesque-Bartlett obtained the figures through a series of Freedom of Information requests. She added: "People have been saying the BBC needs to find new ways to fund itself since the 1980s.

"What are we waiting for? The BBC will never give up its ways."

Ms Levesque-Bartlett has created a petition - 'End the BBC Licence Fee' - which has so far been signed by over 225,000 people.

TV Licensing said: "We would always prefer people buy a licence rather than be prosecuted.

"Official statistics refer to 'prosecutions' where cases have been registered at court but the vast majority of first time offenders are not prosecuted, and have their cases withdrawn by TV Licensing, if they buy a licence before a case comes to court.

"TV Licensing cases which are heard in court have high levels of convictions. Evasion is unfair to the majority who pay their licence.

"An independent review of licence fee enforcement said the TV Licensing system is broadly fair and proportionate and found no evidence to suggest enforcement is unfairly targeted at women."

In March 2016 this newspaper reported how 3,500 letters were sent out every working day to Northern Ireland homes threatening them with £1,000 fines unless they bought a TV licence.

Around 2.3 million letters demanding payment were posted in three years.

The mass mail-outs cost the BBC almost £500,000.

This newspaper has also disclosed how relatives of recently deceased pensioners who received a free licence were warned they may be visited by inspectors if they did not respond.

In the 12 months to last April, some 6,093 'deceased residents mailings' were issued - 23 every working day.

Over the last five years, the total topped 28,300.

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