TV licence payment evasion (Revised 2017)

Communications act 2003, s.363
Effective from: 24 April 2017

Triable only summarily
Maximum: Level 3 fine
Offence range: Band A fine – Band B fine

User guide for this offence


Guideline users should be aware that the Equal Treatment Bench Book covers important aspects of fair treatment and disparity of outcomes for different groups in the criminal justice system. It provides guidance which sentencers are encouraged to take into account wherever applicable, to ensure that there is fairness for all involved in court proceedings.

Applicability

In accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Sentencing Council issues this definitive guideline. It applies to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after the effective date of this guideline, regardless of the date of the offence.*

Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides that when sentencing offences committed after 6 April 2010:

“Every court –

  1. must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the offender’s case, and
  2. must, in exercising any other function relating to the sentencing of offenders, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the exercise of the function,

unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.”

This guideline applies only to offenders aged 18 and older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of children and young people are in the Sentencing Council definitive guideline, Overarching Principles – Sentencing Children and Young People.

*The maximum sentence that applies to an offence is the maximum that applied at the date of the offence.

Step 1 – Determining the offence category

The Court should determine the offence category using the table below.

Category 1 Higher culpability and greater harm
Category 2 Higher culpability and lesser harm or lower culpability and greater harm
Category 3 Lower culpability and lesser harm

The court should determine the offender’s culpability and the harm caused with reference only to the factors below. Where an offence does not fall squarely into a category, individual factors may require a degree of weighting before making an overall assessment and determining the appropriate offence category.

Culpability demonstrated by one or more of the following

Factors indicating higher culpability

  • No attempt to obtain TV Licence
  • Had additional subscription television service
  • Attempts made to evade detection

Factors indicating lower culpability

  • Accidental oversight or belief licence held (eg failure of financial arrangement)
  • Confusion of responsibility
  • Licence immediately obtained
  • Significant efforts made to be licensed

Harm demonstrated by one or more of the following

Factor indicating greater harm

  • Prolonged period without TV licence (over 6 months unlicensed use)

Factors indicating lesser harm

  • Short period without television licence (under 6 months unlicensed use)

Step 2 – Starting point and category range

Having determined the category at step one, the court should use the starting point to reach a sentence within the appropriate category range in the table below. The starting point applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions.

Offence category Starting point Range
Category 1 Band B fine Band B fine
Category 2 Band B fine Band A fine – Band B fine
Category 3 Band A fine Conditional discharge – Band A fine
Fines
  Starting point Range
Fine Band A  50% of relevant weekly income  25 – 75% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band B  100% of relevant weekly income  75 – 125% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band C  150% of relevant weekly income 125 – 175% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band D  250% of relevant weekly income 200 – 300% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band E 400% of relevant weekly income 300 – 500% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band F  600% of relevant weekly income  500 – 700% of relevant weekly income
  • The court should determine the appropriate level of fine in accordance with this guideline and section 164 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which requires that the fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence and that the court must take into account the financial circumstances of the offender.
  • Where possible, if a financial penalty is imposed, it should remove any economic benefit the offender has derived through the commission of the offence including:
    • avoided costs;
    • operating savings;
    • any gain made as a direct result of the offence.
  • The fine should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the objectives of punishment, deterrence and the removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence; it should not be cheaper to offend than to comply with the law.
  • In considering economic benefit, the court should avoid double recovery.
  • Where the means of the offender are limited, priority should be given to compensation (where applicable) over payment of any other financial penalty.
  • Where it is not possible to calculate or estimate the economic benefit, the court may wish to draw on information from the enforcing authorities about the general costs of operating within the law.
  • When sentencing organisations the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the law.  The court should ensure that the effect of the fine (particularly if it will result in closure of the business) is proportionate to the gravity of the offence.
  • Obtaining financial information: It is for the offender to disclose to the court such data relevant to their financial position as will enable it to assess what they can reasonably afford to pay. If necessary, the court may compel the disclosure of an individual offender’s financial circumstances pursuant to section 162 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. In the absence of such disclosure, or where the court is not satisfied that it has been given sufficient reliable information, the court will be entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to the offender’s means from evidence it has heard and from all the circumstances of the case. In setting a fine, the court may conclude that the offender is able to pay any fine imposed unless the offender has supplied financial information to the contrary.

The court should then consider adjustment for any aggravating or mitigating factors. The following is a non-exhaustive list of additional factual elements providing the context of the offence and factors relating to the offender. Identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in an upward or downward adjustment from the sentence arrived at so far.

Factors increasing seriousness

Statutory aggravating factors

  • Previous convictions,

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    Guidance on the use of previous convictions

    The following guidance should be considered when seeking to determine the degree to which previous convictions should aggravate sentence:

    Section 143 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states that:

    In considering the seriousness of an offence (“the current offence”) committed by an offender who has one or more previous convictions, the court must treat each previous conviction as an aggravating factor if (in the case of that conviction) the court considers that it can reasonably be so treated having regard, in particular, to—

    (a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence, and

    (b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction.

    1. Previous convictions are considered at step two in the Council’s offence-specific guidelines.
    2. The primary significance of previous convictions (including convictions in other jurisdictions) is the extent to which they indicate trends in offending behaviour and possibly the offender’s response to earlier sentences.
    3. Previous convictions are normally relevant to the current offence when they are of a similar type.
    4. Previous convictions of a type different from the current offence may be relevant where they are an indication of persistent offending or escalation and/or a failure to comply with previous court orders.
    5. Numerous and frequent previous convictions might indicate an underlying problem (for example, an addiction) that could be addressed more effectively in the community and will not necessarily indicate that a custodial sentence is necessary.
    6. If the offender received a non-custodial disposal for the previous offence, a court should not necessarily move to a custodial sentence for the fresh offence.
    7. In cases involving significant persistent offending, the community and custody thresholds may be crossed even though the current offence normally warrants a lesser sentence. If a custodial sentence is imposed it should be proportionate and kept to the necessary minimum.
    8. The aggravating effect of relevant previous convictions reduces with the passage of time; older convictions are less relevant to the offender’s culpability for the current offence and less likely to be predictive of future offending.
    9. Where the previous offence is particularly old it will normally have little relevance for the current sentencing exercise.
    10. The court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. Where there has been a significant gap between previous and current convictions or a reduction in the frequency of offending this may indicate that the offender has made attempts to desist from offending in which case the aggravating effect of the previous offending will diminish.
    11. Where the current offence is significantly less serious than the previous conviction (suggesting a decline in the gravity of offending), the previous conviction may carry less weight.
    12. When considering the totality of previous offending a court should take a rounded view of the previous crimes and not simply aggregate the individual offences.
    13. Where information is available on the context of previous offending this may assist the court in assessing the relevance of that prior offending to the current offence
    having regard to a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence; and b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction
  • Offence committed whilst on bail

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    S143 (3) Criminal Justice Act 2003 states:

    In considering the seriousness of any offence committed while the offender was on bail, the court must treat the fact that it was committed in those circumstances as an aggravating factor.

Other aggravating factors

  • Failure to comply with current court orders

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    • Commission of an offence while subject to a relevant court order makes the offence more serious.
    • The extent to which the offender has complied with the conditions of an order (including the time that has elapsed since its commencement) will be a relevant consideration.
    • Where the offender is dealt with separately for a breach of an order regard should be had to totality
    • Care should be taken to avoid double counting matters taken into account when considering previous convictions.

    When sentencing young adult offenders (typically aged 18-25), consideration should also be given to the guidance on the mitigating factor relating to age and/or lack of maturity when considering the significance of this factor.

  • Offence committed on licence or post sentence supervision

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    • An offender who is subject to licence or post sentence supervision is under a particular obligation to desist from further offending.
    • The extent to which the offender has complied with the conditions of a licence or order (including the time that has elapsed since its commencement) will be a relevant consideration.
    • Where the offender is dealt with separately for a breach of a licence or order regard should be had to totality.
    • Care should be taken to avoid double counting matters taken into account when considering previous convictions.

    When sentencing young adult offenders (typically aged 18-25), consideration should also be given to the guidance on the mitigating factor relating to age and/or lack of maturity when considering the significance of this factor.

Factors reducing seriousness or reflecting personal mitigation

  • No previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    • First time offenders usually represent a lower risk of reoffending. Reoffending rates for first offenders are significantly lower than rates for repeat offenders. In addition, first offenders are normally regarded as less blameworthy than offenders who have committed the same crime several times already. For these reasons first offenders receive a mitigated sentence.
    • Where there are previous offences but these are old and /or are for offending of a different nature, the sentence will normally be reduced to reflect that the new offence is not part of a pattern of offending and there is therefore a lower likelihood of reoffending.
    • When assessing whether a previous conviction is ‘recent’ the court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. 
    • Previous convictions are likely to be ‘relevant’ when they share characteristics with the current offence (examples of such characteristics include, but are not limited to: dishonesty, violence, abuse of position or trust, use or possession of weapons, disobedience of court orders).  In general the more serious the previous offending the longer it will retain relevance.
  • Remorse, especially if evidenced by immediate purchase of television licence

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    The court will need to be satisfied that the offender is genuinely remorseful for the offending behaviour in order to reduce the sentence (separate from any guilty plea reduction).

    Lack of remorse should never be treated as an aggravating factor.

  • Good character and/or exemplary conduct

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    This factor may apply whether or not the offender has previous convictions.  Evidence that an offender has demonstrated positive good character through, for example, charitable works may reduce the sentence. 

    However, this factor is less likely to be relevant where the offending is very serious.  Where an offender has used their good character or status to facilitate or conceal the offending it could be treated as an aggravating factor.

  • Age and/or lack of maturity where it affects the responsibility of the offender

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm

    Age and/or lack of maturity can affect:

    • the offender’s responsibility for the offence and
    • the effect of the sentence on the offender.

    Either or both of these considerations may justify a reduction in the sentence.

    The emotional and developmental age of an offender is of at least equal importance to their chronological age (if not greater). 

    In particular young adults (typically aged 18-25) are still developing neurologically and consequently may be less able to:

    • evaluate the consequences of their actions
    • limit impulsivity
    • limit risk taking

    Young adults are likely to be susceptible to peer pressure and are more likely to take risks or behave impulsively when in company with their peers.

    Immaturity can also result from atypical brain development. Environment plays a role in neurological development and factors such as adverse childhood experiences including deprivation and/or abuse may affect development.

    An immature offender may find it particularly difficult to cope with custody and therefore may be more susceptible to self-harm in custody.

    An immature offender may find it particularly difficult to cope with the requirements of a community order without appropriate support.

    There is a greater capacity for change in immature offenders and they may be receptive to opportunities to address their offending behaviour and change their conduct.

    Many young people who offend either stop committing crime, or begin a process of stopping, in their late teens and early twenties.  Therefore a young adult’s previous convictions may not be indicative of a tendency for further offending.

    Where the offender is a care leaver the court should enquire as to any effect a sentence may have on the offender’s ability to make use of support from the local authority. (Young adult care leavers are entitled to time limited support. Leaving care services may change at the age of 21 and cease at the age of 25, unless the young adult is in education at that point). See also the Sentencing Children and Young People Guideline (paragraphs 1.16 and 1.17).

    Where an offender has turned 18 between the commission of the offence and conviction the court should take as its starting point the sentence likely to have been imposed on the date at which the offence was committed, but applying the purposes of sentencing adult offenders. See also the Sentencing Children and Young People Guideline (paragraphs 6.1 to 6.3).

    When considering a custodial or community sentence for a young adult the National Probation Service should address these issues in a PSR.

  • Mental disorder or learning disability

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    Mental disorders and learning disabilities are different things, although an individual may suffer from both.  A learning disability is a permanent condition developing in childhood, whereas mental illness (or a mental health problem) can develop at any time, and is not necessarily permanent; people can get better and resolve mental health problems with help and treatment.

    In the context of sentencing a broad interpretation of the terms ‘mental disorder’ and learning disabilities’ should be adopted to include:

    • Offenders with an intellectual impairment (low IQ);
    • Offenders with a cognitive impairment such as (but not limited to) dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);
    • Offenders with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) including Asperger’s syndrome;
    • Offenders with a personality disorder;
    • Offenders with a mental illness.

    Offenders may have a combination of the above conditions.

    Sentencers should be alert to the fact that not all mental disorders or learning disabilities are visible or obvious.

    A mental disorder or learning disability can affect both:

    1. the offender’s responsibility for the offence and
    2. the impact of the sentence on the offender.

    The court will be assisted by a PSR and, where appropriate, medical reports (including from court mental health teams) in assessing:

    1. the degree to which a mental disorder or learning disability has reduced the offender’s responsibility for the offence. This may be because the condition had an impact on the offender’s ability to understand the consequences of their actions, to limit impulsivity and/or to exercise self-control.
      • a relevant factor will be the degree to which a mental disorder or learning disability has been exacerbated by the actions of the offender (for example by the voluntary abuse of drugs or alcohol or by voluntarily failing to follow medical advice);
      • in considering the extent to which the offender’s actions were voluntary, the extent to which a mental disorder or learning disability has an impact on the offender’s ability to exercise self-control or to engage with medical services will be a relevant consideration.
    1. any effect of the mental disorder or learning disability on the impact of the sentence on the offender; a mental disorder or learning disability may make it more difficult for the offender to cope with custody or comply with a community order.
  • Offender experiencing significant financial hardship at time of offence due to exceptional circumstances

Step 3 – Consider any factors which indicate a reduction, such as assistance to the prosecution

The court should take into account sections 73 and 74 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (assistance by defendants: reduction or review of sentence) and any other rule of law by virtue of which an offender may receive a discounted sentence in consequence of assistance given (or offered) to the prosecutor or investigator.

Step 4 – Reduction for guilty pleas

The court should take account of any potential reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with section 144 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the guideline for Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea (where first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017, or first hearing before 1 June 2017).

Step 5 – Totality principle

If sentencing an offender for more than one offence, or where the offender is already serving a sentence, consider whether the total sentence is just and proportionate to the overall offending behaviour in accordance with the Totality guideline.

Step 6 – Compensation and ancillary orders

In all cases, the court should consider whether to make compensation and/or other ancillary orders.

Step 7 – Reasons

Section 174 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty to give reasons for, and explain the effect of, the sentence.