July 24, 2003
It's Only Money

A week ago, the Ombudsgod reported that an Englishman is facing prosecution and a possible fine of 150 ($241) for not paying the BBC poll tax, which comes to 116 ($187) for a color (sorry, colour) television. That's really not much of a difference, is it? Is 150 the most he can be fined? Though rather cheap myself, I can well imagine thinking that it would be worth an extra 34 ($54) and an hour or two in court to deprive the BBC of 116 in revenues. Assuming, of course, that the fine goes into general revenues or court costs rather than being handed over to the BBC, in which case such legal recalcitrance would be counterproductive.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 24, 2003 12:36 AM

Isn't the fuss over the license fee, which will have to be paid in addition to any fine (assuming the defendent wishes to keep his telly?).

For those unaware of the concept, in the UK one pays a rather hefty annual license fee for the privilege of owning a TV set. The BBC even sends out vans with TV-sensing equipment to hunt down signals from unlicensed TVs.

Posted by: David on July 24, 2003 11:22 AM

The linked post didn't say anything about him having to pay the license fee ('poll tax' was what my source called it) as well as the fine. If so, that obviously destroys my point. But what if he refuses to pay the fee? Can they fine him more than once a year for the same offense? Can they fine him and then jail him if he doesn't pay the fine and the fee?

I have occasionally read stories about crooked bureaucrats fined (e.g.) $100,000 for stealing $200,000. The newspapers never seemed to think to say whether restitution was also made. Perhaps it went without saying, but I always wondered if some courts are so incompetent that they will allow a criminal to come out ahead even when he's caught. Not that this Englishman came out ahead on my calculation, but he didn't come out all that far behind -- again, assuming he didn't have to pay the fee after all. Do any readers know how this works in practice?

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on July 24, 2003 11:57 AM

"Can they fine him and then jail him if he doesn't pay the fine and the fee?"

According to www.turnoffyourtv.com's Ron Kaufman, "In 1995, 235 people were jailed for not paying the TV tax, while in 1999 that number had steadily been reduced to 24." http://www.turnoffyourtv.com/bbc.html

Posted by: Bruce Rheinstein on July 24, 2003 03:17 PM

It's a larger number than that, I'm sure. At least 400, I think, as the limit.

Posted by: The Philosophical Cowboy on July 24, 2003 04:27 PM

Miller was ordered to pay £100 costs in addition to the £150 fine. There is no mention of any order to pay the licence as well, so it would appear that payment is 'dead'. He is, however, seeking to take this campaign higher up the judicial ladder, which under Britain's 'loser pays' laws could land him with very substantial liabilities. Note the BBC was not suing Miller for restitution of the lost licence fee, but simply for its non-payment. Had they sued him for the fee itself and won, and had Miller refused to pay, he would then have become in contempt of court, which is an imprisonable offence.

The licence fee is a revolting impost, and I wholeheartedly support its elimination. Miller's campaign, however, is quixotic and very unlikely to succeed. If the licence fee is to go, I feel it much more likely that this will be due to the failure of the BBC to renew its charter in 2006, in no small part thanks to the fact that they at loggerheads with both the Government and the Opposition.

Posted by: David Gillies on July 24, 2003 07:02 PM