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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Leigh Day secures thousands in compensation from BBC in TV licence sex discrimination claim

Leigh Day secures thousands in compensation from BBC in TV licence sex discrimination claim


75 per cent of prosecutions brought by TV Licensing are against women

Leigh Day has secured £6,500 in compensation for a woman who claimed she was discriminated against by the BBC when she was prosecuted by TV Licensing for not paying her TV licence.

Statistics show that 75 per cent of prosecutions brought by TV Licensing are against women, though the government’s 2015 independent review of TV licence fee enforcement found “no basis to conclude that TV Licensing intentionally targets women, or that its practices are directly or indirectly discriminatory”.

During the pandemic, single mother Josiane struggled to pay household bills and was prosecuted for not paying her TV licence fee. She said the prosecution was “deeply stressful” and caused her “sleepless nights”.

Josiane claimed the way TV Licensing (a trade mark of the BBC) identifies, investigates and prosecutes cases for the non-payment of the licence fee is discriminatory.

The charges were dropped after the legal charity APPEAL took up Josiane’s case. However, a legal claim of sex discrimination resulted in the BBC settling the claim for compensation. The BBC also apologised on the basis that its response to Josiane's enquiries could have been clearer and that it did not achieve high standards in customer service to which it is committed.

A proposed judicial review claim by the Public Law Project against the BBC resulted in the BBC agreeing to conduct a Gender Disparity Review, overseen by Baroness Young of Hornsey OBE. However, publication of the report has been delayed, said Josiane.

Josiane commented: “I brought a discrimination claim against the BBC because I believe that the BBC’s processes for identifying suspects of TV licence evasion disproportionately disadvantage women. I accept that the BBC does not agree that this was what led to my prosecution, but I am pleased that they are undertaking another Review of the gender disparity in TV licence prosecutions and have accepted that mistakes were made in my case.”

A TV Licensing spokesperson commented: “The BBC settled Ms Bazatoha’s claim for compensation and apologised to her on the basis that our response to her enquiries could have been clearer and that on this occasion we did not achieve the high standards in customer service to which we are committed. We did not accept that the prosecution (which was later dropped) was due to TVL’s processes disproportionately targeting women.

“Separately, however, we have been looking in detail at the factors behind the gender disparity in TV Licence prosecutions, many of which are complex, societal issues. We have been working with a number of organisations to include a wide range of input into the Review. It is nearing completion and will be published then.”

A BBC Spokesperson said: “We accept our response to Ms Bazatoha’s enquiries could have been clearer and as a result Ms Bazatoha believed a direct debit had been set up when this was not the case which led to a prosecution being initially pursued. We apologise to Ms Bazatoha for this and have provided a payment to recognise mistakes made. We are committed to highest possible standards in customer service and regret we didn’t achieve that on this occasion”.

Deputy director of APPEAL, Naima Sakande, said: “I am pleased that the impact of this unfair prosecution against Josiane has been acknowledged by the BBC. However, the BBC has failed to take responsibility or rectify its discrimination problem.

“Last year the BBC bought criminal prosecutions against nearly 50,000 people for not paying their TV Licence. Before the pandemic, this number regularly exceeded 100,000. Not only are the majority of these people women, many are also struggling financially and have other vulnerabilities.

“The impact of these prosecutions will land heavily on normal people during the cost-of-living crisis. That’s why APPEAL is calling on TV Licensing to suspend all prosecutions during the economic crisis.”

Leigh Day human rights solicitor Kate Egerton said: “The stark gender disparity in TV Licensing prosecutions has been clear for over a decade yet the disproportionate prosecution of women increases year on year. It is our view that the BBC’s current policies indirectly discriminate against women under our equality legislation, and that this is unjustifiable and avoidable.

“We believe that there are a number of alternative measures for investigating potential TV licensing offences that would reduce the disproportionate impact on women; we hope that the BBC seriously considers these as part of its review and implements a lawful system.”