Some 20 people a day are contacting a Leeds-based debt charity about TV licence arrears, owing an average of £66.
New figures from StepChange Debt Charity show a steep rise in the number of people with TV licence debts.
In 2012, the charity helped 7,593 people with TV licence arrears, owing a collective £500,355. It represents a 56% increase on the number of people seeking help for the same issue in 2011.
The problem is most acute among lone parents.
StepChange Debt Charity is now concerned that people may not be aware of the consequences of falling behind with priority bills like a TV licence.
It is regularly seeing people fined between £100 and £150 for not paying their licences. If the fines are not paid, they could find themselves in court.
– Delroy Corinaldi, external affairs director of StepChange Debt Charity
It's perfectly understandable that paying for a TV licence might appear a low priority in a household where finances are already stretched. What people may not realise is that the consequences can be serious, including fines, bailiffs, attachment of earnings, under which creditors can get a court order to have payments taken from wages, or even imprisonment.
We urge anyone struggling with TV licence payments or other priority arrears to contact StepChange Debt Charity, where one of the first steps is to draw up a budget that prioritises the payment of such bills.
TV Licensing has a comprehensive community engagement programme, which ensures people who are experiencing financial difficulties know all of the payment options available to them.
For people who may find it difficult to pay in one go, we offer cash payment schemes. Depending on individual circumstances, people can pay as little as £3.00 to £5.60 per week towards their TV Licence on one of these schemes. Payment schemes can be set up very quickly online or over the phone. We always work in close cooperation with our customers to ensure they remain correctly licensed.
– TV Licensing spokesperson
If people decide to watch TV without being properly licensed, they risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000. How this fine is issued and collected is a matter for the courts"