You cannot be sent to prison just for failing to pay your TV licence

1 June 2023
What was claimed

You can be jailed for failing to pay for your TV licence.

Our verdict

You cannot be jailed for failing to pay your TV licence, only fined. However, if you fail to pay the fine, this can ultimately lead to a custodial sentence.

What was claimed

Conservative MPs have had their speeding tickets paid from public funds.

Our verdict

This is not allowed under parliamentary rules, though some such payments have been made in error.

A widely seen Tweet, which has also been shared on Facebook, wrongly claims that if you are too poor to pay for a TV licence, you can be sent to prison. It also wrongly suggests that public funds are used to pay for motoring offences committed by members of parliament. 

The post says: “A country that still jails the poor for not buying television licences is paying the speeding tickets of Tory MPs.”

The original author of the Tweet told Full Fact that it was intended to be satire, rather than to be taken literally.

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You can only be fined for failing to pay a TV licence fee

You cannot be sent to prison for failing to pay a TV licence fee, as the only punishment available to the court is a fine. However, wilfully refusing to pay a court-imposed fine in connection with a conviction for not paying the licence fee is a separate offence and can result in a prison sentence.

According to TV Licensing: “We only prosecute as a last resort when all our other options have been exhausted”. 

MPs are not allowed to claim speeding fines on expenses

The post also implies that MPs can claim their speeding tickets back on expenses using public funds. This references recent revelations that a government minister, two Conservative MPs and an SNP representative wrongly claimed hundreds of pounds of driving fines on expenses.

However, such payments are not allowed under parliamentary rules and the MPs involved have been told that they must pay the money back. 

A spokesperson for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) told Full Fact: “MPs are not allowed to claim for penalty charges and fines under IPSA rules. Paragraph 3.26 of the Scheme of MPs’ Staffing and Business Costs clearly states that these fines are not claimable. Congestion charge can be claimed by MPs from outside London who drive into central London for work.

“IPSA’s checks failed in some cases to identify these claims and some of them were paid. We will contact MPs and ask them to repay, where appropriate. We have changed our process to ensure any future such claims are not paid and will reiterate the Scheme rules to MPs.”

We wrote to the author of the Tweet who told us: “My Tweets are intentionally written as satire, designed to highlight inequalities in society in a humorous way in a way that will have social media impact. There is no contention they are literally true.”

Image courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters

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