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Decriminalising the Licence Fee and DBS Checks

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The debate about funding of the BBC is nothing new, and every so often there are calls for the licence fee to be scrapped. Moving to a model where television is funded by advertising is the way many other European countries run their broadcasters, but so far, the UK has resisted this move. One of the main criticisms of the licence fee is that not paying it is a criminal matter. Most other fines and penalties are not matters for the courts – pay any fixed penalty notice straight away and it won’t appear on your criminal record. Hopes have been raised in recent months that the government are going to change the law to make things fairer, and this could have an impact on DBS checks too.


Who Needs a TV Licence?

Anyone who watches TV live needs a TV licence, whether they’re watching live through their set at home, or streaming it on a smartphone, tablet, or computer. You also need a TV licence if you want to watch any programmes through the BBC iPlayer, or record programmes to watch later. So, if all you’re doing it watching Netflix or programmes on the ITV Hub, you won’t need a licence. You only need one licence per house, not one per television. A standard TV licence costs £157.50 at present, with increases usually announced at the start of April each year. If you don’t need a TV licence, then you have to inform the licensing authorities.


Effect on DBS Checks

With other fine, such as parking tickets, or even a fine for breaching Covid-19 regulations, you’re given a chance to pay up before the matter goes through the courts. You can rack up dozens of parking tickets over a driving career, but as long as you pay, the police won’t ever get to hear about it. The matter may only be entered on your criminal record if you repeatedly refuse to pay and are taken to court over non-payment of fines. However, watching TV without a licence is a criminal offence in itself, and if you’re caught then that will be entered on your police record. If in the future you apply for a job which requires a DBS check, then your crime may be disclosed to your employer.


Should I Be Worried?

The simplest way around all this is to pay for your TV licence. However, there are growing calls to make the licence fee penalty the same as any other fine. This would decriminalise the matter, and potentially make things fairer for people who genuinely forget to buy a TV licence rather than deliberately try to evade paying for one. Furthermore, the DBS is looking carefully at what elements of a criminal record they will and will not disclose. This process is called filtering and is designed to only tell employers about convictions which would have a serious impact on their abilities to do the job. Even if not paying a licence fee is decriminalised, then it’s unlikely to be applied retrospectively.