HUNDREDS of Wiganers have been brought before the courts accused of evading the TV licence, new research suggests.
A review of TV licensing by an independent campaigner says Greater Manchester has the third-highest rate of evasion in the country, with 11,811 prosecutions in 2014.
A total of 8,328 women and 3,475 men, with eight defendants refusing to state their gender, attended court to deal with the matter in 2014.
Only London (27,272 prosecutions) and the West Midlands (12,871) had more people brought into court for not paying the TV licence fee, according to figures collected under the Freedom of Information Act.
The research was compiled by legal professional Caroline Levesque-Bartlett, who started looking into the issue after becoming dissatisfied with the way broadcasting and TV ownership is licenced.
Ms Levesque-Bartlett said: “The situation in Greater Manchester is pretty bleak. Not only is it the third area with the most TV licence evaders in the UK, but the ratio of evaders to the population is pretty appalling too.
“For every 1,000 people in Greater Manchester, 4.3 were prosecuted by the BBC under the TV licensing trademark. To put this in perspective, only 3.1 were prosecuted in London.”
Ms Levesque-Bartlett added that she believes the number of people being prosecuted in Greater Manchester is going up.
In total 185,580 people went to court in England and Wales in 2014 for non-payment of the TV licence, with 162,851 defendants being found guilty and 22,729 prosecutions ending unsuccessfully.
However, the figures for unsuccessful prosecutions do not show exactly how many people were found not guilty in court and how many simply had their cases dropped or withdrawn by the BBC.
Furthermore, 39 people went to jail for non-payment of fines arising from evasion in 2014, serving an average of 20 days. This is higher than the 32 defendants jailed in 2013 but below the figure of 51 for 2012.
Strikingly, more than 70 per cent of TV licence evaders are female, a ratio consistent across the UK but distinctly at odds with statistics for other low-level crimes where men make up a large majority of defendants.
Ms Levesque-Bartlett suggests the high number of female evaders could be due to more women being at home when licence officers visit, women being more willing to open the door to the authorities and also more willing to correct the lack of a licence if prompted.
Funding the BBC is currently a hot topic as its charter is up for renewal next year, with chancellor George Osborne slashing its budgets and calling for it to be downsized and a root-and-branch review set to look at the broadcaster’s size and activities.
Following her research Ms Levesque-Bartlett is calling for licence evasion to be decriminalised, even though a proposal on the issue was narrowly defeated in the House of Lords in February.
She said: “The UK appears to be the only country which thinks that non-payment of the licence fee should be a criminal matter. A substantial numebr of countries have abolished their TV licence.
“A recent review concluded the curernt system should be maintained in the overall public interest. But no study was made of the social impacts of the current criminalisation regime.
“It’s important to raise awareness on this and get the TV licence payers involved in the process for the first time.”