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With a decision following the consultation on the future of the tax used to fund the BBC imminent, a source close to culture secretary Oliver Dowden said that it is “highly likely” he will opt for decriminalisation.
The decision will be a hammer blow to the Corporation who will no longer be able to drag people who do not pay the licence to the criminal courts and estimates that it will lose £1 billion annually through decriminalisation.
The Whitehall source said: “The consultation is finished and the conclusions will be published soon but it is now highly likely that decriminalisation will happen.”
Currently, courts can impose a £1,000 fine for non-payment which can become a prison sentence if people do not pay.
Between 2015 and 2018 91 people, disproportionately women from low income families, were jailed for non-payment.
But with tens of thousands of people backing the Defund the BBC campaign it could see many of them stopping paying the £157.50 licence fee.
The threat of decriminalisation comes amid widespread fury over the way the BBC tried to block playing Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory on the last night of the Proms because of claims it was linked to slavery.
The move was publicly criticised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the BBC decided to play the tunes but not have the words sung in a move it said would only happen this year.
Meanwhile, there is continuing anger over the way the BBC reneged on its agreement to pay for the free licence fee for all over-75s.
Questions also continue to be asked about the high salaries of its presenters including £1.8 million for Gary Linekar to present football highlights on Match of the Day.
There are also concerns that the BBC has not show impartiality on major issues particularly Brexit where it was consistently accused of being pro-Remain in the balance of its coverage.
Earlier this week the outgoing Director General Lord Hall was mocked after he suggested that the licence fee should be replaced by another household tax similar to the Council Tax to fund the broadcaster’s burgeoning spending.
He wanted the tax to even apply to people who do not own a television.
He said: “I think finding ways in which the licence fee can be charged progressively so those who can afford to pay more and those who can’t afford to pay less, should be looked at.
“Should it be collected in a way on household bills, council tax bills, to cut down the cost?’
He added: “If you want to have something good, a public service available to all, then that has to be funded by all, not by subscription or behind some paywall.”
It was the first time Lord Hall had admitted that the licence fee is out of date.
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