The fee is very much a part of British life. It is a criminal offense for anyone with a television set not to pay it, whether they watch the BBC or not. Fee-evasion cases make up 12 percent of the caseload in magistrates’ courts. Although most evaders are fined, 20 people were imprisoned for nonpayment last year.
The BBC took in £3.9 billion ($7.5 billion) from the fee in 1993, but 5.7 percent of television owners still failed to pay. TV Licensing regularly carries out campaigns to warn them about the consequences of inaction that say, for instance, “Get one or get done” – “getting done” being slang for getting caught.
Enforcement officers visit homes and businesses about three million times a year. They have a variety of weapons at hand, including a law that requires retailers to notify the government whenever someone buys a television; a database with TV-owning information about 28 million Britons; and specially equipped vans and hand-held devices that can detect unlawful television-watching.