TV Licensing 'no involvement' in decision to jail ill Belfast grandmother
The organisation responsible for collecting the TV licence has said it had "no involvement" in the decision to jail a chronically-ill west Belfast grandmother.
On Thursday it was reported Annie Smith (59), from Poleglass, who has serious mobility issues and is waiting on a double-hip replacement, was ordered to present herself to police by 5pm on Wednesday to begin a six-day jail sentence.
A bench warrant was issued for her arrest after she failed to pay a court fine of just over £1,100 - issued as the result of the non-payment of her TV licence.
The Irish News reported Mrs Smith had engaged a solicitor and contacted the court to try and pay the fine but was unable to settle it as the bench warrant had already been issued.
In a statement, a spokesperson for TV Licensing - which collects the licence fee - said prosecutions were only pursued as a "last resort when all other options are exhausted" and the maximum fine for an unpaid television licence was £1,000, along with associated court costs and a victim surcharge.
"Newspaper reports say Mrs Smith has been sentenced to prison for non-payment of court fines for TV Licence evasion. The sentence is a matter for the courts and TV Licensing has no involvement in this decision," the spokesperson said.
"The majority of first time offenders are not prosecuted if they buy a licence within a specified time. There are many ways to pay, including weekly cash payments and we are currently trialling the Simple Payment Plan which offers even more help to those who might struggle to pay.
"We work with nearly 500 organisations across the UK, including many in Northern Ireland, to offer advice and support.”
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said it was an "appalling misuse of tax payers' money" to jail individuals in financial difficulty for failing to pay their TV licence.
"This case is another clear indication that the TV licensing scheme requires a root and branch review," he said.
"Given the host of welfare changes that have been introduced lately- plunging many individuals and families into debt- it is absolutely appalling that people are facing prosecutions of this weight for something so trivial."
Belfast Telegraph Digital