LONDON -- The number of people taken to court for non-payment of the BBC television license fee -- the public service broadcaster's majority fund raiser -- meant the company was responsible for more than one in ten criminal prosecutions last year.
According to a report in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, more than 180,000 people – almost 3,500 a week – appeared before the courts in 2012, accused of watching television without a valid $228 (£145.50) license.
The license fee contributed over $5 billion to BBC coffers in the tax year 2012/13 and is the biggest single contributor to the public broadcaster's funding.
The report in the Telegraph points to figures that show that the courts handled a total of 1.48 million cases in 2012, which means that around 12 percent of their workload is now being made up of TV licensing offenses.
In the U.K., anyone watching television as it is being broadcast must have a valid television license for their home regardless of whether they watch it on the internet or on a traditional TV set.
But it is possible to be exempt from the fee if the household can prove it watches television programs via the various catch up systems available on the internet, such as the BBC’s iPlayer.
According to the Telegraph report, 2012 saw a total of 155,000 people convicted of not having a valid license and received a fine as a result.
Those convicted receive a criminal record with the maximum penalty for non-payment standing at a $1560 (£1,000) fine.
There is a call to transfer TV licensing issues to be made part of the civil law system rather than the criminal justice framework.
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